I keep reading online where game masters ask about where to get ideas for their campaigns. I say open up a history book you’ll get plenty of ideas, many of which are better than fiction.

Since it’s Memorial Day, let’s talk about World War I and some of the stories which came out of it.

1. J.R.R. Tolkien

Did you know J.R.R. Tolkien could have died in the Battle of Somme (July 1 to November 18, 1916) and been one of the 456,000 British casualties? Instead he contracted trench fever and was evacuated back to England, where he spent the rest of the war deemed unfit for combat and either in the hospital or did garrison duties.

Tolkien would later write: By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.

In Britain, France, and elsewhere the entire young adult male population in many communities would be annihilated by the war.

Trench warfare literally consumed millions of lives.

As historian James L. Stokesbury wrote: European civilization had become a cannibal, gobbling up its own flesh and blood and crying unceasingly for more. (A Short History of World War I, page 194)

2. Turnip Winter

Winter of 1917-1918 was called Turnip Winter. Everywhere Europeans faced chronic food shortages because of the war, so they ate turnips. Food was needed for the war. So were luxuries.

3. The German 1918 Offensive

In the Spring of 1918 (a century a ago!), it looked like Germany might win the war. After Russia collapsed in the Bolshevik Revolution, Germany moved its troops and materiel from the East to the Western Front. On March 21st, the Germans shot 1.1 million rounds of artillery to launch the offensive.

The Germans had to defeat the French and the British before the United States sent more reinforcements in the Allied Expeditionary Force (A.E.F).

German Stormtroopers, armed to the teeth with spike-knuckled trenched knives, potato masher grenades, and world’s first submachine gun–the MP 18–led the assault. Initially gains, however, were costly.

The battlefield wastelands of the war hindered reinforcements and resupply, and so by May 1918, the German Offensive stalled out.

4. The Allied Counter Offensive.

The Americans had already arrived, and played a key role in halting the German advance, beginning at the Battle of Belleau Wood.

On June 2, Captain Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Division would declare Retreat? Hell! We just got here! The U.S. Marines played an integral role in halting the German advance. Retreat Hell! is now the motto of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines.

The Allies would gradually push the German back toward the Rhine, but ultimately it would be internal mutinies and worker’s revolts which would cause Germany to lose the war.

5. The Flu Epidemic

Spanish Influenza was the number one killer of 1918,  not World War I, claiming the lives of 20-40 million people around the world, including 600,000 Americans.

6. Results of the War

The war ended with a cease-fire, an armistice, on November 11, 1918. The official end of the war came with the Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919. The treaty included The War Guilt Clause, were Germany had to assume blame for the war and pay reparations to the allies.

Philipp Scheidemann, the first Chancellor of the Weimar Republic, resigned rather than sign: Which hand, trying to put use in chains like these, would not wither?

Germany finally paid off these reparations in 2010.

Memorial cemeteries dot the countryside.

As for those battlefield wastelands, they’re still around. Scars of trench warfare mar the earth. Unexploded mines, artillery shells, and poison gas canisters still litter the regions where fighting was the fiercest. They’re call Red Zones, and the public is restricted from entering these areas. High levels of arsenic, zinc, lead, and poison gas chemicals exist in the ground, water, and animals. Ruins of destroyed villages may be found.

The French Government has anticipated in might take centuries before the Red Zones are anywhere safe again…


I haven’t even covered the War Poets, advances in military technology, or Ernest Hemingway. Yet I see kernels of adventures here, or a campaign setting.

Any ideas yet?

Just never forget the sacrifice and the cost.