The Second Great War:
Back at the turn of the century, our former marketing guru and I had a friend named Lewis, one of the handful of genuinely nice people I’ve ever known, who published a role-playing game in a genre he called “dieselpunk.” He printed thousands and thousands of copies and ended up giving many of them away as I recall, pulling a large stack of them behind him at conventions on a little silver luggage cart and never losing his cheery demeanor. The large-format hardcover book had beautiful full-color production values, including a lovely map of the island where the game’s adventures took place – an island that looked exactly like female genitalia.
I haven’t seen Lewis in years, and his game has been out of print for at least a decade. But his marketing term, dieselpunk, has lived on to describe a whole wealth of literature, films and games that takes the concepts of steampunk (Jules Verne-inspired weird science in the age of steam) and moves it to the first half of the twentieth century. Add a word to the English language and your work lives on for centuries. This feat remains one of my great unfulfilled life goals.
Our Second Great War alternative history story arc bears no other resemblance to Lewis’ game, but is very much a dieselpunk setting. Airships dominate the skies, helicopters and autogyros are common, fixed-wing aircraft are much less prominent, rail travel is well-developed, and battleships rule the seas.
Proper execution of a fiction series in whatever medium – comics, role-playing, television – is to outline the background in what’s known as a “series bible.” Our book titled The Second Great War is the series bible for our Second Great War story arc, giving the background of Wilson’s Peace, the events of the years that followed the end of the First Great War, and then describing the campaigns of the Second Great War on both land and sea.
The premise of this story arc is that Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to mediate a peace agreement in November and December 1916 succeeded in bringing the First World War to a close. Wilson actually made such an offer, but it failed to gain traction with either side and the opportunity was lost. The war ground on for two more years, killing additional millions and maiming even more, not counting the additional death and destruction inflicted in related conflicts like the Russian Civil War.
That results in a very different world than our own. The German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires survive as well as many more of their subjects. The bulk of the Middle East remains under Turkish suzerainty. The world economy is much less damaged, with no crippling reparations payments and a very mild “Great Depression.” Woodrow Wilson’s ideal of borders determined by inhabitants in democratic votes comes partially to pass, at least for select European populations.
Yet all of that is not a recipe for peace. Politicians in France and Italy blame Wilson’s Peace for all of their societal and economic woes, while Russia’s Tsar Alexei yearns to re-establish the borders of his father’s Empire. In 1940 these three revisionist powers along with Belgium, Serbia and Montenegro strike against Germany and Austria and their allies. By 1941 Britain, Bulgaria, Romania and Japan have also entered the war. The United States seeks to profit by trading with all sides, but that can’t last forever and eventually the Americans are dragged into the conflict as well.
The Second Great War book covers the events that bring on renewed warfare, and then the campaigns themselves on both land and sea. And there are a lot of campaigns, in theaters including South America, Mesopotamia (two fronts), the Sinai, Anatolia, Vietnam, Siberia, Poland, the Rhineland, the Isonzo, Novi Pazar, Bulgaria, Finland, East Africa and a few more. The Second Great War is even more of a world war than the first.
The book also delves into the technological differences between this new world and our own. Rotary and lighter-than-air flight are much more important than fixed-wing aircraft, without the rapid technical developments seen in the last years of the First World War. The battleship remains the arbiter of sea power: in game terms, the Second Great War scenarios are very battleship-centric, because players like to fight with battleships. Most fleets do include aircraft carriers, but they are small and their planes are mostly useful for scouting. Their helicopters and autogyros are potent anti-submarine platforms. There are also arms control treaties, just like in our own history, but these allow many more veteran ships of the First Great War to carry on into the Second.
The Second Great War is a standard paperback book physically similar to the many others we’ve published over the years. Placing all of the story together into one book makes it much easier to bring the stories of the individual Second Great War at Sea books together, and also lets us use more of the space in those books for battles and the details of the ships that fight them.
Writing the background story also meant plotting out the arcs of at least a dozen new Second Great War at Sea books and games. Every Second World War at Sea game will receive at least one Second Great War at Sea supplement. The setting also gives us the excuse to extend the maps for the naval series into areas they would never reach if we stuck to purely historical topics, like the Arabian Sea and Africa’s eastern coast. It also lets us make more use of maps we already have, and explore some of the corners that don’t see a lot of action in the historical scenarios.
It’s an exercise in world-building that’s proven to be a lot of fun, both to design and to play. While common in role-playing publishing for at least 40 years, there’s never been a project quite like this for wargames.
You can order The Second Great War right here.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.