I originally came up with this as an adventure outline for the Adventurer’s Club campaign, but it quickly became far too big and too complicated for that.
Rather than throw it away, I have recast it as the outline of a standalone Pulp Campaign.
The overall premise is The PCs time travel into the bodies of people in the past in order to stop the spirit of an inventor bootstrapping himself into unearned wealth and power at the expense of everyone else in the planet.
The campaign writeup is a little more developed than simple outline notes, but every aspect needs further prep before it would be ready to run.
The campaign background should be a somewhat more optimistic version of our history. The Great Depression should have been shallower and shorter, thanks to bailouts and reinvestment by civic-minded entrepreneurs who foresaw the economic train-wreck and decided to do something about it. These movers and shakers then backed FDR’s reforms as though the bailout had never happened and used the corresponding increase in productivity to recover their investments and make a profit on the side – but it was a risky proposition, and one that they don’t want to have to rely on in the future. As a result, unemployment is down, incomes are up, and the future looks rosy – though the shadows of Fascism and Communism still loom on the horizon. The date should be mid-to-late 1930s.
Adventure #1: All My Yesterdays
I’m serving this adventure in more detail than most because it spells out the premise of the campaign and the relevant game physics. It’s in eight parts, some longer than others. Adventure #1 gives the campaign premise, introduces the campaign Instigator and the Master Villain, tells the players about the immediate Threat, and outlines the game physics relating to applied time travel.
- A newsboy is spruiking paper sales, yelling out the headline “War threat rising as German Diplomats recalled from Washington. Prices to rise, new taxes blamed, Mayor burned in effigy at Church, stunt condemned by City Government.” The PCs are approached by a beggar – one of many on the street corner – who asks for help. NB: Scenery described is very dystopian, full of polluting factories, workers as almost slave labor, etc, and NOT what the players would have been expecting from the campaign background described. Be sure to emphasize a couple of times that “everything seems normal to you,” especially if the players comment on the difference between what they were expecting and what they have actually encountered.
- Beggar claims to be the ghost of the wealthiest man in the world, come to set right his mistakes of the past.
- He outlines a variant history of our world, and explains that he was an inventor working on exotic weapons research during the conflict that occupies half the next decade, when the US Government was desperate enough to try anything. The US had stayed out of the European War until it was almost too late, dragged in only when Japan invaded and conquered Hawaii in the wake of a sneak attack. Facing a potential mainland invasion, US support of the European Theater was half-hearted, and Britain was eventually forced to its knees by lack of supplies. The Germans then turned their attentions to conquering the Caribbean Islands to use as a staging point for an eventual invasion from the southeast while the Japanese had Hawaii to stage from the west. In this environment, what was needed was a super-weapon to make both sides back off, and the DoD spent billions backing all sorts of long-shots in hopes of finding one winner.
- His invention was just such a winner – Ectoplasm Time Travel, enabling him to jump into the body of someone else at the destination time and use his knowledge of the future to change history. He arrived before the Yukon Gold Rush and bought up the land where the most valuable gold strikes would occur, earning himself a small fortune and becoming a legend. He then invested wisely, converting the gold into hard currency through the boom of the post WWI era, subverting politicians with bribery and legitimate backing, and knocking the most vehement of the isolationists out of politics. He sold all his stocks over the month prior to the beginning of the Great Depression, converting a fortune that had grown ten-fold in the meantime back into hard currency. When stocks in blue-chip companies reached their minimums, he had bought them up, saving the companies, and increasing that fortune 1,000-fold, until he was the wealthiest man in America and owned 60% of the 100 biggest companies in the country. He then pushed for heavy industrialization and preparations for war, using the political influence he had garnered to steamroller any obstacles, and making the US the unquestioned greatest military power in the world, all in preparation for the inevitable war.
- The plan approved by the 1948 DoD was for him to make the US so strong that Japan would not dare attack Hawaii, but instead would accept an official look-the-other-way neutrality with the US in the form of a treaty even now being instigated by his tame politicians. This would give the country the military strength to support England on his terms, crushing the Nazi regime. But his contemporary self has already changed the history of the world sufficiently that his predictions have a serious (and rising) margin of error, and in particular, he needs to stabilize the timeline in which he is wealthy and powerful, or the Grandfather Paradox will turn around and bite him. To do this, he needs to replicate his research and send someone else back in time to do the dirty work that leaves him in control. Only when this world has the power to make the same events occur in history will the timeline become stable.
- In the era from which the beggar derives, he understands time travel far more thoroughly and has also seen the consequences of his manipulations first hand. The person selected by his contemporary self will follow the plan up to a point, insinuating himself as the Oracle of his younger self, but all the while plotting to overthrow him and establish himself as a fascist dictator, not for ideology, but for personal power. The future version who’s ghost has possessed the beggar tried to stop the Oracle in the future and failed, dying in the attempt, but surviving long enough to attempt time-travel for a third time in hopes of regaining control over the situation. The Oracle must have pulled the plug on him while he was in transit back to 1895, however, because he ended up here, instead.
- He needs the PCs – his greatest known enemies in the timeline from whence he came, excluding The Oracle whom he did not suspect as an enemy – to (1) Seize Control of the Time Travel equipment built by his contemporary self; (2) permit him to modify the equipment, so that he can sent the PCs back to various points in the history in-between just long enough to do what has to be done and then returning them. These changes include: (3) Follow the Oracle back in time and stop him; (4) change history to some middle ground in which the money is funneled not to his past self but to various others who will of their own volition work to oppose the rise of Fascism; and (5) then set up conditions such that his original self is never called on to conduct the time-travel research that starts this whole brouhaha. This will gently “unwind” the changes made to history, restoring time to something approaching its natural course – but there is a fuzziness to the path of history, fringe effects effects will linger, making people aware of the possibilities of a potential future that never happened. This will inspire others to make preparations for future events, strengthening the US just enough to make intervention in the coming war practical without laying the foundations for a new US-based fascist world dictator to seize power.
- PCs are given the address of the time travel equipment. They can’t afford to kill the contemporary version of the creator of the equipment even though he is the ultimate villain of the plot; they need to keep him alive until after time has been set right and stabilized. Until then, he has to survive to become the Hero/instigator of the plot to rescue history. Nor can they afford to risk damage to the equipment. They have to get through security that is more than a decade more advanced than what they are used to, beat the armed thugs employed by villain, and try to prevent damage to the machine. They succeed in all of this but fail to prevent the Oracle being sent back into the past. Their only hope is to pursue him and stop him from changing world history in such a way that he becomes a Fascist Dictator before it’s too late.
Adventure #2: All That Glitters
Adventure #2 introduces the Immediate Threat (who the PCs have only heard about in Adventure #1) and establishes the standard format of each adventure. It may (probably will?) also establish further elements of the campaign physics.
Each adventure has both a back-in-the-past element and a here-and-now element. The latter will usually but not always be secondary to the former.
The back-time element also has a fairly standard format: a) Arrive Back In Time, b) Get together, c) Do whatever needs to be done, d) Deal with any immediate fallout, e) Make restitution to the Bodies they are inhabiting and whose lives they have disrupted, and f) return to their ‘now’.
NB: If a PC inhabiting a past body gets killed, they will return to their natural time and can be sent back in a different body. It will make the restitution phase (e) more complicated, though. If their modern-day selves are injured or harmed in any way while the PCs are in the past, improbable circumstances will arise that will deal an identical injury to the body they are inhabiting.
The PCs are sent back in time to early-to-mid-1896 (3-6 months before the Gold Rush begins), arriving at various points in the US and inhabiting the bodies of various people. Each has a solo adventure en route to junking the old lives of their hosts (no matter how prosperous) and heading for the site of the forthcoming Klondike Gold Rush. Once reunited, they have to (1) Identify the Oracle; (2) Sabotage as many of the land deals being perpetrated by the Oracle as they can; (3) Deal with the Hired Thugs sent to persuade them to mind their own business by The Oracle and the puppet behind the scenes, who will be their ally in the far future but who is currently a second enemy and desperate, while permitting enough of the deals to go through to avoid the original timeline. They will also have to do something to compensate the bodies they are inhabiting and whose lives they have disrupted. When these tasks are complete to the GM’s satisfaction (it doesn’t have to be perfect), the PCs will snap back to their present day, strapped into the time machines, where they will discover that more thugs sent by the Oracle have the beggar at gunpoint (Cliffhanger ending).
Adventure #3: Depressing Thoughts
More action, more adventure, move and countermove, and more game physics. This one is also detailed fairly extensively, and will offer still more game physics at the end.
The PCs escape their bonds and fight off the modern-day bad guys. It’s clear that they are going to have to fight on two fronts – the now and the then. Since their enemies know where they are, the smartest thing to do would be to move the time machine apparatus, but it can’t be done; there is a ‘window of elasticity’ to events before they become fixed, and the machine would need to be re-tuned and recalibrated before it could function at a new location – which would take more time than the available size of the window. So the PCs need to find a way to secure the facility, but they can’t take very long to do so.
It will also be discovered that time flows at a different rate within the machine – for every day spent in the past, only about 1 minute passed in the modern day. That means that they can minimize the window of vulnerability during which they are helpless within the machine by not dilly-dallying in the past. NB: The closer to the modern day they come, the closer to sync the two time rates become.
The PCs are then sent back to 1900′s New York City, the turn of the Millennium and beginning of the 20th century, generally viewed with a sense of optimism. The world is more or less at peace and there is a general sense that War is obsolete as a means of settling international differences, though not every country in the world has yet woken up to this fact. Treaties between the great Empires of Europe mean that should one be attacked, others will be drawn in, confronting the aggressor with overwhelming odds, so no-one would dare start anything serious. It is also a period of unparalleled innovation and of technology being taken to the masses – refer to this wikipedia page and this list for more info on what was new and exciting and what was exploding into mass popularity.
Their mission in the past is to create a targeted series of small stock market events that will limit the profitability of the investments that their major enemy is making, while sucking away about 1/3 of his investment capital and setting up investment accounts for their own future use. That requires a two-sided operation, carefully synchronized: a Big Con to separate him from his money, and some careful stock market manipulation through rumors, insider information, and deceptions.
Once again, the bodies they occupy will hail from all income levels and walks of life, and be from all over the west coast – not knowing who they would be, the PCs will have to improvise with who they are.
As usual, once the adventure is complete, the PCs will return to the present, just as unsuspected damage from the earlier fire-fight causes sparks to fly and smoke to erupt from the time-travel machine. The PCs will have to act quickly to put the fire out before the machine is irretrievably damaged, and before someone calls the fire department. End when the fire seems out but before they know how well they have succeeded in containing the situation.
Adventure #4: Over There, Over Then
The fire is out, the fire brigade are not on their way, but the time travel machine is badly damaged. To repair it, The Beggar needs a high-tension electric coil; his past self spent six months building the one that has just fried, time they don’t have. Their only choice is to beg, borrow, or steal one from the only person in this era who would have such a thing – Nikola Tesla. But they can’t tell him what they want it for, or even mention time travel in his presence. In terms of his career, Tesla had hit the high-point in 1928 and begun a slow downhill slide. His reputation as a wizard and wonder-worker remained intact, and he would frequently make the headlines with spectacular electrical light-shows and even more grandiose claims of what his technology was capable of in his hands, but in reality he was heading toward being penniless and had not had a patent approved since ’28. Always proud to the point of being self-destructively stiff-necked, this is a dangerous time to approach the inventor; his pride has been inflamed (he will not under any circumstances take anything even remotely resembling charity), and at the same time no-one serious will back him financially, and the earning power of his patents is beginning to wane.
Remembering that every minute counts (the window of elasticity), the PCs will have to move quickly – on a job that would be difficult if they had ample time at their disposal.
While attempting to gain the part they need, they will come under attack from even more thugs – their enemy has presumed that critical components may have been damaged and knows where they would have to go to obtain replacements. He has hirelings staked out these places, waiting for the PCs.
When they get it back to the time machine and install it, the Instigator will pronounce that it is safe to use – but that he has had to work around other damage that decrease the reliability of the machine. Because of the window of elasticity, they will have very little time to attempt their next mission into the past, and may even fail; he views the attempt more as a final test of the rebuilt machine than as an opportunity to undo the harm that the Oracle is doing in the past.
That mission: it’s the early days of WWI, and The Oracle has invested in many stocks that will boom as a result of the conflict. His puppet, and the ultimate villain of the campaign, now sits on the board of several companies as a junior member, and is wealthy – but no longer amongst the 100 wealthiest in America, thanks to the PCs past efforts. One of the Oracle’s key lieutenants is currently an enlisted man serving at Fort Bliss, where the Eighth Brigade under Pershing is about to be handed the task of securing the US-Mexico border in light of the Mexican Revolution. That future lieutenant will distinguish himself in the 1916-17 Punitive Expedition into Mexico in search of Pancho Villa despite the failure of that expedition overall, but only if his immediate superior takes a shine to the generally unlikeable character. The Oracle is going to achieve this by means of bribing one officer and tainting the career of another with an unproven scandal. The PCs mission is to prevent these developments if they can, exposing the corruption of the bribed officer and clearing the name of the officer who dislikes the future Lieutenant intensely.
The PCs will be (mostly if not all) civilians, they will have only half-a-week or so to get the job done, they will have to face travel restrictions and do most of their work with no authority from positions of hiding, or after stealing uniforms and ID from real soldiers, being careful to avoid blackening the records of anyone who will ever amount to anything important. This would be a difficult job if they had unlimited time, so they should expect to fail – don’t disappoint them.
When they succeed, or time runs out, return them to the 1930s as usual, but don’t have them all awaken at the same time because of the damage to the time machine. Let the PCs discuss this while they wait for the other shoe to drop and get more and more paranoid when nothing seems to happen.
When you (or they) can’t stand it any more, or time is about to run out on the game session, there will be a “ding” from another room, which will contain a large movie-like screen but no projector; instead, there will be a whole mess of vacuum tubes and mechanical mechanisms behind it. The Instigator names it “The Perspectatron” and states that it is something that he has built out of spare parts to replicate a device that he created in the future from whence he came. As an element of the timeline stabilizes as a result of the actions and counteractions of the PC and the Oracle, this machine resolves an image of that change to the timeline at some future point where it becomes critical. It has a limited capability in terms of the number of subjects that it can deal with at any time, is not always reliable, and the information is usually cryptic at best, shorn of context and explanation. Whenever the device senses that it has resolved something new, relevant, and possibly meaningful, the bell sounds – at least in theory, he’s only just finished putting it together.
Just as he says, “lets see what’s going on…” the lights will go out, leaving everyone bathed only in the opalescent light from the screen.
Adventure #5: Feet Wet
Bombs that were placed by the Oracle’s Henchmen in a Niagara Falls power plant during construction have just been detonated to cut power to the time travel device. This would normally have left the time-travel facility helpless, perhaps for weeks, but one of the improvements that the Instigator from the future made was to construct a power reserve. He couldn’t obtain reserve generators with enough power – they just don’t exist in small enough size to be practical in the 1930s, and the process of building one required more advanced tools and materials than were available as well. But he was able to pre-design a backup that could be manufactured quickly using contemporary materials – so he has enough power to run the Perspectatron and for one more time jump to undo whatever has caused the problem. This is a mission that MUST succeed or the campaign is over, with the Oracle winning.
The power plant in question is Schoellkopf Station No. 3C, constructed between 1921 and 1924. The explosives have been built into the liquid-cooled transformer coils, the oil-cooling liquid replaced with a blend of oil and Nitromethane, which was not known to be an explosive until 1958.
With the PCs distracted by the power plant disaster – most of the work of which was done back in the early 1920s – that’s left the Oracle free to make a counterstrike, kidnapping the family of one or more PCs to blackmail the whole group into submission.
Adventure #6: No Need To Get Personal
A rescue attempt is made but ends badly. The team then have to travel back in time to a couple of days earlier and change the circumstances that led to the failure of the rescue. Once they succeed, the team get to roleplay the rescue attempt again, which succeeds, this time.
Adventure #7: It’s Raining Investment Bankers
The PCs are now free to resume dismantling the Oracle’s operation. They are told that the Oracle’s next significant move came in 1929, when he made significant investments – timed to as to counter the various prophecies of doom that triggered the great depression – which delayed the economic cataclysm until 1931, when it was even more catastrophic, but enabled him to increase his “master’s” fortune massively. The team’s job is to travel back to 1927 and bring about a stock market crash that the Oracle is not expecting. This is another of the critical missions that the team can’t afford to fail, or they will be reduced to damage limitation for the rest of the campaign (or so they expect).
Back in the 1930s, the unusual activity at the lab has attracted the attentions of a German industrial spy, who has snuck in, slugged the Instigator from behind, and taken extensive photographs of the installation and the blueprints of the time-travel machine… If he isn’t stopped from getting those plans to Germany, the Nazis will also have the time-travel technology! (cliff-hanger finish).
Adventure #8: The Fifth Column
The PCs pursue the Nazi industrial spy, have a big fight with stormtroopers and members of the US Bhund, and think they have succeeded at the end in capturing the film with the photographs of the time-travel equipment.
Back at the lab, they learn through the Perspectatron that they were only partially successful; while they recaptured some of the rolls of film, a second set that was made while The Instigator was unconscious were left at a drop point, and made their way to Germany. It apparently took until 1964 for the (East) Germans to make sense of them and build a functional prototype, but they got there in the end. Even more surprisingly (from a modern perspective), they managed to hide the project from the Communists. It seems the project fell into the hands of an Anti-Nazi underground faction who want to prevent the Nazis from ever coming to power, but their interference is poorly planned and researched and will have massive negative consequences (cliff-hanger finish).
The following should be converted into briefing notes for the players to read before the next Adventure:
There are many populist myths about the rise of the Nazi party to power, some the direct result of WWII propaganda but more which have simply occupied the popular zeitgeist. Five in particular are relevant: That the reparations following world war I were responsible for the collapse of the German economy in the 1920s; That the anti-semitic and extremist positions that the 3rd Reich came to embody originated with Hitler and his party; That the Nazis gained power because they promised to restore the German Economy and National Pride (a half-truth); That it was Hitler’s party machine telling him what he wanted to hear that led him to his greatest excesses; and that it was the propaganda machine of Joseph Goebbels that led to the near-fanatical belief in Nazism by the German People.
Each of these is an oversimplification and in combination, make it seem that Goebbels was the instrument of conversion of the Nazi Party from regional minority political party to national dominance and the direct cause of their becoming the arch-villains that they are now perceived as having been by history.
If anything, this collection of misinformation fails to paint a true picture of how villainous the Nazis actually were. Tackling them one by one:
Reparations and 1920s economic collapse
The roots of the economic collapse can be traced back to the decision of the Germans in World War I to pay for the war by borrowing money. France paid for it’s participation by instituting an income tax for the first time, in comparison, while war bonds raised money for US participation.
The Great Depression caused a cessation of loans to Germany, causing the Mark to be devalued relative to the dollar; this threatened and was compounded by an economy still in recovery from the war, and by an economy that was unstable in general; and further exacerbating the problems were economic practices within the Wiemar Republic – in effect, to print as much money as they needed – and rising unemployment from the resulting depression. It was a perfect storm of economic disaster. With the devaluation of the Mark, England demanded that reparations be paid in Gold or in Goods rather than Marks; at this point, the exchange rate had begun to stabilize at about 60 Marks to the Dollar, from a position of about 9 to 1 at the end of the War.
In order to buy foreign currency, which could be used for reparations, the Germans printed as many marks as they needed, the value of the Mark began to steadily decline before it stabilized at an exchange rate of 320 to 1 in early 1922. A series of conferences seeking a solution to the German problems restored some measure of confidence in the situation, and economics is as much a matter of public perception as it is a reality. When these conferences came up empty, the German economy resumed its collapse, entering a state of hyperinflation. By December 1922 the exchange rate was 800 to 1, and the cost-of-living had increased 15-fold in just six months.
Socialist strikes by workers accelerated the collapse, as did the occupation of the Ruhr by French and Belgian troops in 1923 to force the payment of reparations in goods, signaling that they had no confidence in the stability or capacity of the German Government to manage the situation. In response to this invasion, the workers of the Ruhr went on General Strike, while continuing to be paid by the German Government for “Passively Resisting”.
By November 1923, the American dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 German marks.
Ironically, given that the US solved it’s economic problems (in part) by going off the Gold Standard (something that Germany had done at the start of World War I), on November 16, 1923, the Germans restored their economy by issuing a new currency that was tied to the value of gold but not redeemable for hard currency, wiping twelve zeros off the prices of goods. Because the Germans refused to print more currency than they had gold to back, this new currency succeeded where previous attempts had failed. While the old Marks continued to decline in value, eventually reaching the point in August 1924 where one new Reichsmark was worth 1 trillion old Marks, but a phased conversion of the economy to the new currency progressively brought stability. By the end of 1925, the crisis was over.
The belief that this was one of the causes for the popularity of the Nazi party arise because a government Austerity Programme in 1931 created an entirely separate deflationary event, now known as the Brüning deflation and depression; The Nazis and many other anti-government groups were able to play on fears of a repetition of the 1920s economic collapse. So the period of hyperinflation was only indirectly responsible, at best, for the rise of Fascism in Germany.
Antisemitism and extremist politics
Radical anti-semitic attitudes and political extremism were rife in the Wiemar Republic from the early 1920s. To quote one paragraph of the Wikipedia article to which I have linked,
The German government during the Wiemar Republic era did not respect the Treaty of Versailles that it had been pressured to sign, and various government figures at the time rejected Germany’s post-Versailles borders. Gustav Streseman as German foreign minister in 1925 declared that the reincorporation of territories lost to Poland and Danzig in the Treaty of Versailles was a major task of German foreign policy. General Hans von Seeckt (head of the Reichswehr command from 1920 to 1926) supported an alliance between Germany and the Soviet Union to invade and partition Poland between them to restore the German–Russian border of 1914. The Reichswehr Ministry memorandum of 1926 declared its intention to seek the reincorporation of German territory lost to Poland as its first priority, to be followed by the return of the Saar territory, the annexation of Austria, and re-militarization of the Rhineland.
The list of ambitions in that memorandum should be familiar to everyone – it’s virtually identical to what the Nazis actually did.
Recovery of German Economy
The early 1930s in Germany were marked by a succession of governments appointed by President Hindenburg – four of them in four years, and a succession of failed economic policies which led to mounting unemployment. Hitler was able to parley people’s fears into an opportunity to implement policies that many Germans already believed in or desired, and the primary reason his government lasted longer than any of these others is that the Nazi party did two things – they blocked the opportunity to dismiss them by moving against Hindenburg, and they actually delivered on many of their promises, however grotesque, misguided, or unfair those policies are now deemed to be.
Instead of an economic recovery from the Great Depression, all Hitler really had to do in order to restore the economy was to moderate the Austerity programmes that had created the crisis while inspiring a wave of new confidence and self-pride in the German people. In just the same way as a lack of confidence can create an economic crisis from the smallest of kindling, so confidence can be translated into an economic boom, and so long as that boom lasts, confidence in their leadership will remain.
Hitler’s version of “The New Deal” – which can ultimately be simplified, at least in part, to massive investment in infrastructure – was in re-armament. This created jobs, stimulated the economy, and overturned the austerity policy that had created the crisis in the first place.
It was the delivery of the resulting economic and technological boom in the 1930s that led many in the US and elsewhere to admire Fascism and become Nazi Sympathizers. It seemed to work. And if it could have that effect in nations far distant, how much greater must the effect have been in immediate proximity? So long as he kept delivering the goods in terms of rising national pride and living standards, Hitler and the Nazi Party could do no wrong in the eyes of the public.
Propaganda of Goebbels
Arguably, then, Goebbels didn’t have that hard a job to do. The fact that anyone speaking against the regime was ostracized (at the very least), very probably reported as a subversive, and then taken into custody by the Gestapo or the SS and probably never seen again made his job pretty easy, at least until the wheels began coming off the German campaign, and even after that for a good while.
The more difficult task was in making the party a national political force in the first place, and the people most responsible for that did not include Goebbels. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
Telling Hitler what he wanted to hear
By now, it should be clear that Hitler was very much a man of his times, riding existing sentiments and ambitions; the Nazis were a bunch of thugs who simply manifested what a number of people were thinking into actual policy and then implemented it utterly ruthlessly. Those who think that others egged the hierarchy on by telling them what they wanted to hear should remember the penalties for failure, and for subversive or disloyal behavior, which included pessimism about official policy and tactics. From a 21st century perspective, there was a strong resemblance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, insofar as criticism was a crime punished with indefinite punishment without trial or appeal.
The results are a positive-feedback loop in which existing traits are inevitably amplified in a recursive fashion. The system is designed to tell people what they want to hear, and that makes excess in every trait impossible to prevent. Replacing the entire leadership of the Nazi party, if such a thing were possible, without reforming the underlying socio-political system, and nothing would change, save perhaps the ability of the leadership to deliver on the promises they were forced to make – or come close enough to be able to bluff their way through it.
The True Architects Of Misery
It can even be argued that while he provided the ideological foundations, and the demagoguery, Hitler himself was not ultimately directly responsible for the success of the Nazi Party in coming to power, completely lacking administrative abilities; the Nazi Party were a minor force in the region of Bavaria until Hitler entrusted party organization to the head of the secretariat, Philipp Bouhler, the party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz, and business manager Max Amann. These three created the infrastructure of what would become the Third Reich. Despite their efforts, however, the Nazi Party had received only 3% of the vote in the December 1924 Reichstag elections, falling to 2.6% in 1928. State elections produced similar results. From 1928 on, other nationalistic groups began to fade away, stifled by the ongoing recovery in the German economy that had given them impetus, and were absorbed into the Nazis – who had yet to adopt that name.
In fact, it was only in January 1928, when the Party appointed its propaganda head, Gregor Strasser, to the position of national organizational leader, that the Nazis began to grow from an irrelevance to a national organization. By 1929, the party had 130,000 members; in the September 1930 Reichstag elections, they captured 18.3% of the vote and became the second most powerful party in Germany. The SA was now a definite political force to be reckoned with – from being nothing just three years earlier.
In March 1932 Hitler ran for President against the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg, polling 30.1% in the first round and 36.8% in the second (against 49 and 53%, respectively). By now the SA had 400,000 members, and its running street battles with the SPD and Communist paramilitaries (who also fought each other) reduced some German cities to combat zones. Paradoxically, although the Nazis were among the main instigators of this disorder, part of Hitler’s appeal to a frightened and demoralized middle class was his promise to restore law and order.
Although Hitler and Strasser (in collusion with Goebbels) had disagreed on policy matters since 1925, the real wedge between the pair began when Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher offered Strasser the offices of Vice-Chancellor and Prime Minister of Prussia in December 1932, hoping to divide the Nazi party. Although the offer was blocked by Hitler, it was at least partly successful in driving a wedge between the astute political management that had brought the party to prominence and the ideologues and fanatics loyal to Hitler personally. How Hitler learned of the offer is unknown.
Strasser was ultimately purged during the Night Of The Long Knives.
Despite the appearance fostered by the twin historical distortions of Allied propaganda and Nazi revisionism, Goebbels was not the most important man in gaining power for the Nazi party, and neither were Bormann, Himmler, or even Hitler himself, in my opinion; I think that even without all of them, the Third Reich would have prospered under the organization of Bouhler, Schwarz, Amann, and the leadership of Strasser. Hitler brought an element of “cult of personality”, and levels of conviction that came close to insanity; Strasser would have brought an icy efficiency and pragmatism to the position. Arguably, things would have been much worse if Strasser was in charge beyond 1932.
Speculation: It seems likely that two factors were ultimately responsible for Strasser’s downfall: the political rift exacerbated by the offer from Schleicher, and the presence of someone to step into his Shoes in the form of Goebbels. It’s even possible that Goebbels learned of the offer and reported it to Hitler before Strasser could decide in which direction his loyalties lay – his party, or whatever ambitions he may have held personally. It was in Schleicher’s interests to make the offer known publicly, so he may have been responsible for spilling the beans. However, it has to be said that up to that point, Strasser had been a loyal servant of the Nazi Party. so it is entirely possible that a slight delay would have enabled him to take the opportunity to prove his loyalty by reporting the offer and his refusal to be bought off by Schleicher to Hitler, healing the rift between them at least partially.
So: The Germans assassinate Goebbels in late 1932, thinking him the linchpin of Nazi success, but doing nothing but delaying Hitler’s discovery of the offer from Schleicher long enough for Strasser to publicly refuse the position, emphasizing his loyalty to the Party and its leadership, and condemning the attempted corruption of the will of the people through bribery. Strasser survives, and those loyal to him are not removed from office, and the Nazi takeover in 1933 is even better organized and effective. This puts Strasser in position to learn of the Rohm-Putsch, better known as the Night Of Long Knives, when Hitler eliminated all his political rivals, in advance – and to stage a coup within the party, on the grounds that the planned Putsch was being disloyal to the party (and suspecting that his name was on the list to be purged). The Third Reich becomes even scarier, because it’s now run sensibly and ruthlessly. A misguided attempt to change history results in things becoming much worse.
Adventure #9: Future (very) Tense
The PCs have to prevent the Germans from completing their mission.
When they return to the 1930s, they discover that the Instigator has made some very dangerous modifications to the machine that might – just might – permit the team to travel forward in time to 1964, and has located the German time-travel machine. They will have to get rendezvous as usual, get across the Berlin Wall into East Germany, destroy the underground time-travel facility (no half-measures, complete destruction is mandatory), then escape and get their hosts back to safety.
Of course, the world of 1964 bears very little resemblance to anything the PCs know… technology, politics, etc, will all be different. Note too that this will be a world in which the primary global conflict is The Oracle’s Amerireich vs the USSR – which (ironically) is closer to the 1930s in terms of personal freedom than North America under the Oracle.
They will also have a very limited time-frame to complete their mission before the changes they made back in pre-WWII Germany ripple up the timeline. If they take too long, the personal histories of their hosts will change and the world around them will suddenly become Nazi Germany, complicating an already-complicated situation.
Note to GM: Make sure this happens mid-mission!
Adventure #10: Whose New Deal Is It This Time?
From this point forward, the focus shifts to the out-of-time portions of the adventures, with no real action in the modern era aside from a little roleplay. This is intentional and should indicate that the campaign has started building toward a climax.
With the German time-travel facility out of commission, and the Oracle’s puppet reduced from being the undisputed wealthiest man in America to merely one of the top 100, the team can focus on derailing the Oracle’s attempts to convert his wealth into political power. He no longer has the wealth to buy that power outright, and so has been forced – according to the Perspectatron – to an alliance with another group with extensive infiltration into Government – the bootleggers and organized crime. Prohibition was made law in 1920 and the distribution of illegal alcohol gave criminals great wealth and a number of allies both likely and unlikely. Some opposed prohibition on ideological grounds, some could be bought, some went along for the ride, and some opposed it for political reasons. Others were induced to cooperate with the bootleggers by means of extortion. Most paid lip service in public – “It’s the law, I might not agree but it still has to be obeyed” – while quietly sheltering and protecting those who violated the law. Attempts to curb the illegal use of industrial alcohol by lacing it with poisons while knowing that the measure was ineffective as a deterrent attracted further opposition to the policy.
Starting by tipping off Capone where and when raids would occur, and supplying intelligence on various politicians who were susceptible to coercion and blackmail, The Oracle spent most of 1926 insinuating himself into Capone’s good books and eventually persuaded him into an alliance. This took place behind the back of his puppet, and marked the first moves against the puppet who was beginning to outlive his usefulness as a front and means of gathering power. In particular, the “official” plan was to recruit and support politicians who would strengthen the US militarily prior to the nation being dragged into the European Conflict that is now imminent, but these politicians would be of only limited usefulness to the Oracle; he wanted people who would propel him into a position of political authority from which to launch his coup. In other words, the people that he wanted were exactly the same people that Capone was targeting, though the Oracle was casting a wider net.
One politician would be key, Speaker of the House John Nance of Texas, who historically was persuaded in the course of the 1932 Democratic National Convention to drop out in return for being named FDR’s running mate. The Oracle made illegal contributions in the names of several of the backers of the (First) New Deal, then provided the proof of those transactions to Nance just hours prior to the attempt by FDR’s managers, James Farley and Louis McHenry Howe, to broker the deal with Garner. Instead of accepting the deal, Nance exposed the corruption and FDR – who had been leading every ballot by a significant majority but falling just a little short of the numbers required to finalize the nomination – was forced to withdraw, his bid in total dissaray. The New Deal coalition collapsed, and the other three contenders scrambled to get the numbers of the disaffected delegates. With advance warning, Garner was successful in picking up 60% of the delegates who abandoned FDR, while Al Smith picked up the majority of the remainder. This gave Garner momentum and he was successfully able to pitch a deal with Smith, despite the hatred the two had for each other, presenting a unified ticket on the fifth and final ballot.
The Oracle knew that the depression had tainted Hoover and the Republicans and that the Democrats could exploit public disaffection with Hoover’s economic management to ensure victory in the 1932 election. Post-election, Vice-President Smith, who had been backed by the Tammany Hall Machine, was put in charge of a full investigation and house-cleaning of the Democratic Party, and traced the corruption and fraudulent donations that had undermined FDR to the Oracle’s puppet, who was arrested, staining his reputation. This placed Smith in a difficult position because the Puppet was also a part of the Tammany Hall operation. Smith delayed releasing his findings to the public and to other branches of the Government while he considered his options, giving the Oracle time to leak it. Accused of attempting a cover-up, Smith was forced to resign. Capone and the Oracle then blackmailed Nance into appointing Capone ally William Hale Thompson to the office of Vice-president, while Capone himself ran for office in a brutal and thoroughly corrupt election to replace Thompson as Mayor of Chicago.
This is the rat’s nest that the PCs have to somehow undo. Step one is to prevent the circumstances, post-election, that led to Smith’s resignation. If they succeed, they force the Oracle into coming up with another scheme and weaken the alliance with Capone. This puts the Oracle on the defensive and buys the PCs time. How the PCs attempt to achieve this is up to them.
Adventure #11: Conventional Ideas Wanted
Win, lose, or draw in the previous mission, the PCs can then attempt to further undermine events by targeting the events at the 1932 Democratic Convention. Again, how the PCs proceed is up to them. If they succeed, they again place the Oracle on the defensive, though at a much earlier point in time, and save the New Deal.
Adventure #12: Gangland Gangbusters
Again, regardless of the outcome of the previous mission, they have a third chance to prevent the Oracle achieving the political subversion that led to all this drama – by preventing the alliance with Capone in the first place. If they succeed at this point, the Oracle’s master-stroke against his puppet will be thrown into total disarray, enabling what the players think is the last adventure in the campaign to proceed.
Adventure #13: Confrontation
Assuming that they have been successful in the previous mission, the PCs have now restored a timeline in which the Oracle has been blocked from betraying his puppet. The final mission is to separate the two once and for all with direct action against the Oracle at a point prior to the putative alliance with Capone.
To do this, they will have to invade one of the most heavily-fortified and defended homes in all of New York and take the fight to the Oracle – without harming the Puppet.
If they succeed, the timeline as modified by the original Instigator will have been stabilized, and the PCs will return to find themselves in the world described in their original briefing notes. Which leaves only the question of what to do with the Instigator and his time machine…
Adventure #14: The Price of Victory
…who will not go quietly, and who cannot be trusted. At least, that’s the judgment of President Ronald Reagan of the year 1982, whose office came into possession of the time travel device following the death of the Puppet of old age. Reagan authorized a Delta Force Black Ops mission back to the 1930s to destroy the machine and wipe out anyone who knew about it. This was a one-way trip for the squad selected. The PCs have just been deemed the bad guys by the future US Government!
How the PCs react to this and what they do about it – long term, and short-term – is up to them. This is the real final mission of the campaign, and it might well be that the PCs decide to agree with future president Reagan, and resolve to destroy the device themselves. They may also decide that the knowledge they posses is too dangerous, and ensure that they are caught in the destruction; or they might decide to form an organization to prevent future meddling by time travel in history. Whatever they decide is fine – but unless they destroy the machine, they will have to look over their shoulders for the rest of their lives…
PC restrictions in past bodies
Anything that is learned knowledge will be retained. Anything that is a learned physical skill (beyond the basics) will not, but may be regained in a week or so of wearing the new body, getting used to the new center of gravity, etc. Physical characteristics will be those of the host body, mental characteristics will be the average of the host and the PC. Any physical skill that the host body has but the PC does not, or has to a lesser degree, can be used by the PC as though they had it, provided they don’t stop to think about what they are doing or going to do – the body’s trained reflexes remember. As soon as the PC thinks about it, he will tend to suffer a catastrophic failure by getting in the way of those reflexes.
Host Body Backgrounds
It may be convenient to take another page out of Quantum Leap and permit the Instigator to identify the host and provide a very basic briefing on who he or she is after the PC has occupied it. This information shouldn’t be available immediately, it should take about an hour to retrieve; the PC will have to blend in on his own for a while.
Yesterday Once More – Coda
So there it is, for whatever it’s worth – a complete campaign outline. Part Sci-Fi, part Pulp, and altogether too ambitious for the existing Adventurer’s Club campaign. It should adapt reasonably well to any appropriate game system from James Bond to d20 Modern to Pulp Hero. It would be a lot of fun to referee, and should be just as much fun to play.
Note that in almost all instances, the background historical information provided is accurate, though there has been modifications to events where a time-traveler has actively intervened.
I liked the campaign logo that I put together as part of the illustration for this article so much that I’m providing a hi-res version (1000 x 1000). This is exactly the right size to print at 300dpi with the same visual area as the thumbnail above, or to be something close to a full-screen image. Just click on the thumbnail above to download.
Credit where it’s due: The image was constructed from clip art made available through clker.com from two far more talented computer artists than myself, Lori and Andres – no further details provided. But thanks to them both!