In preparing for this Retrospective series, I was very surprised to discover that the second-oldest RPG in my collection is Behind Enemy Lines (1st Edition) published by FASA in 1982. Behind Enemy Lines is an interesting RPG. It won the 1982 HG Wells Award for Best RPG Rules so one would really think it is an RPG. In reality, it is a WWII skirmish combat game with some RPG mechanics grafted in.
Behind Enemy Lines bills itself as the “World War II Role-Playing Game.” I see this game as very similar to a game I talked about earlier,Commando, which is unabashedly a wargame with an RPG campaign system overlaid. Behind Enemy Lines comes across to me as a skirmish combat system using RPG mechanics. There is a character generation system focusing on the difference between urban and rural soldiers. The core mechanic, which is found in the Combat chapter, uses a “2d6 roll-over a Target Number” approach. Interestingly, the game is nearly GM-less. Yes, the system requires a GM to referee or guide the players/combat squad, but that is mostly accomplished through the use of Event Tables:
The heart of Behind Enemy Lines is the Event table. Each prepared scenario will include several event tables created especially for the situation; a number of tables for different circumstances and terrain types are included….Game Masters are encouraged to make their own tables in order to create new situations with which to plague the players with new problems or offer some variety. (“Say, didn’t we meet this same French peasant last week?”) – Behind Enemy Lines; Book 1: Character Generation and Basic Rules; Event Tables, p. 65
What I Thought of It Then – I remember just a few sessions of Behind Enemy Lines. As wargamers, my group preferred playing above the super-tactical, or skirmish level, so as a wargame it didn’t deeply appeal to us. As a RPG, it seemed very limited in scope (WWII infantry combat in Europe-where was the Pacific expansion?).
What I Think of It Now – Behind Enemy Lines is a skirmish wargame with some RPG elements. There is little-to-no narrative play; the Event Tables guide the game (with GM direction – more GM deterministic than narrative). In some ways I view this game as Band of Brothers, The RPG.
From an RPG-perspective, I give Behind Enemy Lines a Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):
- System Crunch = 1.5 (Core Mechanic is strictly combat action-focused)
- Simulationist = 5 (This is a combat game; event tables drive any “narrative”)
- Narrativism = 1 (There is no Luck or Hero Points or Bennies or a Miraculous Escape Matrix)