During the Second World War, the Special Operations Executive were tasked with some of the most dangerous covert actions. Yet for the agents of Network N, fighting the Nazis is just one part of their war… To aid them in their task, they employed all manner of weird and wonderful gadgets - in today's blog post line developer Scott Dorward shares his favourite devices from The SOE Handbook.
The SOE Handbook is the latest supplement for World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour, our espionage setting for Call of Cthulhu. It is available in PDF format from DriveThruRPG now. It is also available to order from our webstore.
The unorthodox tactics used by the Special Operations Executive often called for equally unorthodox equipment. SOE Station 12 at Aston House, a stately home near Stevenage requisitioned by SOE, produced a wide variety of explosives, weapons, vehicles and other strange devices. Some of these proved impractical or even too dangerous to use in the field, but most found their way into the hands of SOE agents.
Only picking three such items as favourites is tricky, as so many of them represent a kind of mad genius that sits somewhere between schoolboy impishness and bowel-loosening terror.
These were specialist mines, designed to disable wheeled or tracked vehicles. They took the form of small steel canisters, two inches in diameter, packed with high explosive. The tyreburster would detonate when 150 pounds or more of pressure was placed on it. The resulting explosion would disable most vehicles, causing them to crash.
The ingenuity came in convincing enemy drivers to detonate the mines. The boffins at Station 12 speculated that bored drivers would often go out of their way to drive over animal dung on the road to amuse themselves. In some cases agents would hide the tyreburster in fresh droppings, but in order to make the mines ready to use in all conditions, Station 12 also produced tyrebursters encased in clay, sculpted and painted to look like animal excrement.
A small team in Station 12 worked to reproduce the varieties of animal dung found on the roads of the various countries in which SOE operated, developing a wide range of carefully crafted fake droppings. Personally, I find the image of highly skilled military engineers spending their days developing optimal ways of creating ersatz animal turds quite wonderful, especially given the devastating consequences of their work.
Nothing, for me, sums up the military-minded practical joker aspect of Station 12's work more than their development of a particularly horrible form of itching powder. Using the seeds of the mucuna plant, SOE created a powder that could not be washed out of cloth. Anyone wearing contaminated clothing or sleeping on bedsheets dosed with the powder would be in constant discomfort. The resulting distraction and sleep deprivation would then limit their combat effectiveness.
On a number of occasions SOE agents were able to access clothing factories or laundries used by the German military and add mucuna powder to uniforms and underclothes. One such operation led to a German U-boat being forced to return to base after a mysterious outbreak of dermatitis, a potent outcome for what at face-value sounds like little more than a schoolboy prank.
Possibly the most notorious and bizarre of SOE's dirty tricks involved hollowing out rat corpses, filling the body cavities with plastic explosive and then inserting a time pencil fuse up each animal's rectum. The bodies could then be scattered around places where one may expect to find dead rats, such as in coal stores. The idea was that they would either sabotage equipment or injure Axis soldiers and workers, damaging morale.
In practice, the Germans caught on to this tactic almost immediately and the use of exploding rats was discontinued shortly after. The expectation within SOE was that the Germans would spend the rest of the war fearing that any dead rats they encountered may explode, with a resulting waste of manpower in checking murine corpses. This may have been wishful thinking, however.
As well as these devices, The SOE Handbook contains loads more strange equipment and weapons for use by agents, both against enemy combatants and servants of the Mythos.
About The SOE Handbook
The SOE Handbook also presents details of a selection of SOE training facilities and the sometimes eccentric personalities who may be encountered there. This allows the Keeper to include mission-specific training, along with the occasional side mission on home soil, as part of their campaign.
Written by Scott Dorward and Martin Dougherty, illustrated by Jon Hodgson and Scott Purdy
The SOE Handbook for World War Cthulhu: The Darkest Hour is available for pre-order at our webstore now. All pre-orders come with a complementary PDF copy. You can also pre-order it at your local games store. Stores participating in the Bits and Mortar scheme also come with a complementary PDF.
You can also buy The SOE Handbook at Drivethru RPG.
Please note: The techniques described in this book are historical techniques employed by trained professionals in desperate times. Cubicle 7 does not endorse or encourage their use or replication, and does not take any responsibility for individuals doing so.