Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bring on the Nazis!

Nazis.  Perhaps the best known villains in popular literature, possibly the worst villains in history.  We have seen them taken down by the likes of Indiana Jones and Hellboy, have watched numerous documentaries on their evil deeds.  One could argue that in the worlds of fiction perhaps Nazis have been a little over used (Certainly in the real world they have; The History Channel’s old nick name was The Hitlery Channel, and it seems every other hour of Military Channel programming is dedicated either to Nazism or World War II.).  Star Trek, for example, visited the Nazi well a few times with TOS’ Patterns of Force, Voyager’s The Killing Game and Enterprise’s laughable two parter Storm Front, where the term “Space Nazi” originated.  Nazis could be called trite and clichéd.
And yet, people, both GMs and authors alike, still keep coming back to them.  Why?  I will tell you…

Damn.  Even their waiters looked good...
Appearance: Nazis look awesome.  If you examine all the uniforms worn during WW II the Germans stand out as looking utterly bad ass in their field gray and black (or desert tan, depending on the theatre of war), with red trim, peaked caps and riding boots.  If the war had been fought by the standards of fashion the Allies would have surrendered long before D-Day.  And this look has translated over into other popular culture.  Look at the Empire uniforms in Star Wars and you can get a Nazi vibe off of them.

And this look captures the players’ collective imagination.  They see in their minds’ eyes tall, broad shouldered blue-eyed and blond-haired Aryans in black, silver and red, armed with the signature and stylish Luger pistol, bombing them with V2 rockets and strafing them with shark-like ME262 jet fighter aircraft, or rolling over them with Tiger tanks, blasting them into oblivion.  Heck, even their weapons sound cool.  The panzerfaust (tank fist) was a rocket propelled grenade designed to destroy tanks.  Say it with me: panzerfaust.  The second part of that name conjures up something demonic, hearkening back to the story of Faust, who sold his soul to the devil.  Panzerfaust.  If you want to create a cool bad guy, there is a name ready-made for you.  Can the PC’s stop Baron von Sturmwolfen and his Panzerfaust Commando?  With names like that?  I don’t think so.

Ideology: Nazis have a clear cut motivation, be it extermination of the Jews or resurrecting Hitler or even just the fact that they believe they are better than you, that you are the mongrel offspring of inferior races (Being German and Scots Irish, I would fall into this category).  You can understand their motivations, they are clear cut.  Nazis are Bad Guys and except for a fraction of the population (and that fraction are all assholes, so who cares what they think) we would like to see every single Nazi burn in hell.  For this reason a GM or screenwriter can appreciate why Nazis are so much fun to kill.

And another aspect of the ideology is it is generally well known to most people with at least a basic education, so the GM does not have to fill in much back story when Nazis are employed.  Nazis are like a microwave meal of delicious villainy, they are ready to serve within minutes.

"Roddenberry does know we're Jewish, right?"
Adaptability: Nazis can be used in anything from a time travel story where the heroes journey into the past to take on Hitler’s SS, to the present where a Neo Nazi movement seeks to recapture past glories.  Or Nazis are found sleeping in suspended animation, or a secret enclave of Nazis is found on the moon as seen in the Iron Skies game and referenced in an old David Drake novel.  Or the future where some regime has decided to adopt Nazi ideals to achieve their aims (in TOS’ Patterns of Force it is pointed out that, crude and vicious ideology aside, Nazism did turn the country’s economy around.  A future leader could adopt the trappings of Nazism), or from another dimension where the Germans won WWII (i.e. Robert Harris’ Fatherland).  You could even have your Space Nazis, creatures who have discovered old radio and television transmissions and think this Hitler guy is pretty swell and are inspired by him.  Perhaps they even come to Earth to help him out. 

Nazis are also adaptable when it comes to tone.  Under normal circumstances Nazis are the purest Evil and should be portrayed that way, but there can be exceptions.  The most notable one that comes to mind is the movie The Blues Brothers.  Illinois Nazis swore vengeance on Jake and Elwood Blues after being humiliated by the pair, they chased them down during the climactic final act.  Modern Nazis were portrayed as being weak, ineffectual and foolish men…which seemed to me a pretty spot on interpretation by director John Landis.

Another option you might want to explore is that of Romans.  Romans share some Nazi traits; they were expansionist, employed (for the time) high technology, and were stylin’ in their sharp uniforms at a time when many of their enemies wore whatever the hell they wanted.  In an episode of The Tomorrow People time was altered and the Roman Empire conquered Earth.  Space Romans might be an interesting adversary to tackle.

Now you may ask “Tom, have you ever used Nazis in your games?” to which I must admit that no, I have not.  However, I had planned to in my Cosmic game, where I was going to introduce a colony of Nazi Germans living on another planet.  In a scene on a space station one of the PCs had spotted a human with crew cut blonde hair and this was eventually going to lead to a Space Nazi adventure.  However the game folded long before I got that far.
So next time you are stumped for a villain to use, you might want to consider breaking out the Nazis.

So next time you are having trouble coming up with a villain to toss at your heroes, consider The Nazis.

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