"I have in this War a burning private grudge—which would probably make me a better soldier at 49 than I was at 22: against that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler (for the odd thing about demonic inspiration and impetus is that it in no way enhances the purely intellectual stature: it chiefly affects the mere will). Ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making for ever accursed, that noble northern spirit, a supreme contribution to Europe, which I have ever loved, and tried to present in its true light."
- – J.R.R. Tolkien, being a boss
Nazi is the commonly used shorthand version of Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party), a political party which took over Germany
for 1,000 years from 1933 to 1945. It also refers to people who belonged to said party, their ideology, and their regime in Germany during said period of time. Led by Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Party emerged from the uncertainty and political upheaval due to the Red Scare, the end of the German Empire after the Great War, resentment at unfair conditions imposed by Treaty of Versailles, economic uncertainties due to the Stock Market crash of 1929, German ethnic nationalism, a desire to blame things on scapegoats, and a belief in militarism popular among many returning veterans. They were also aided by their invention of modern campaigning and propaganda, wide-spread dissatisfaction with the status quo, the strategic seizure of the political positions that controlled the police force, the intimidation or murder of political opponents and journalists using glorified street thugs, and more dumb luck than anyone has any right to have, let alone a bunch of genocidal loons.
The Nazis' initial success can be attributed to the image of glorious economic recovery, part of which they accomplished by keeping Germany's economy running during The Great Depression. They presented this to the rest of the world, making many people believe the little mustachioed guy couldn't be that crazy since he'd made his country recover brilliantly in very little time. And while Germany did indeed recover, the whole thing was helped and held upright by MEFO bills: basically a Ponzi scheme that allowed the government to loan money on the sly through a front company about metallurgy research (the Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft, or MEFO in short). This allowed them to work at a much higher level of debt flotation than allowed by international regulation, and the idea was to pay back the loans with seized gold and valuables from Jews at first, and then directly from conquered nations after the war went on, since even state created debt bonds are exactly that: debt, credit, which is trust. Eventually the creditor will want something in exchange (or at the very least get his investment back) or the debtor's credibility will be shattered, stopping the money flow.
To give you a clearer idea of what happened: You are defeated and poor, but are fuming for revenge. To keep you down, your victorious neighbors don't lend you a dime to produce guns and make sure your already meager income is only spent on debt and basic necessities. So what do you do? You decide to spend money in the form of credit, raise the debt higher and higher (making the rest of the world believe you are rich), and keep the charade until the debt becomes irrelevant(who needs to pay the creditor he will declare war on?). So you make up a credit card called Mefocard ("MEtallurgische FOrschungsgesellschaft" - Metallurgy R&D sounds civilian and peaceful, so the world markets play along), borrow even more wildly to look opulent, and to create weapons on the sly promise that you'll pay the debt back... Then attempt to kill the lenders and subjugate their families to share the debt you have. It was simply a continent wide, all-or-nothing robbery attempt even wilder than WW1's trench-fighting Imperial duel.
The Ponzi schemes weren't limited to national/corporate level shenanigans, but extended to the German people as well. The famous Beetle was developed to be a cheap family car (hence “volkswagen”, or “people’s car”), and a part of selling the German public on the idea of an idyllic, cheap-but-cheerful family life, along with things like state-sponsored vacation villages. An elaborate layaway scheme allowed average German families to give the government a few Reichsmark a day in exchange for the promise of a new Beetle and a seaside vacation package. However, all that money actually went into rebuilding the German military, and war began before any of the promises had to be delivered on. Because the illusion of a better future and hope is always easier than just taxing the population directly.
They were also fantastic proponents of lies and propaganda, ranging from race theory (fake archeology was a particular favorite), to manufactured pretexts for war (the trigger for invading Poland was an obvious false-flag operation), to simply overstating their successes. For example, the old line that goes "say what you want about them, but the Nazis/Hitler did make the trains run on time"? They didn't. Train service was as bad or worse under fascist leadership as it had been immediately before their rise to power. But they realized that they only had to say the trains were running on time, and strongarm anyone inside Germany who dared to publicly disagree. Doubly funny is that it was Mussolini's Italy that had trains running on time, and even then, it was because of pre-fascist personnel improving it.
Needless to say, this situation was the reason why the scenario of not waging war (like in Hearts of Iron or some alternate reality stories) simply wasn't a realistic option. Despite their multiple annexations of territory, the Nazis couldn't sustain their charade without the influx of riches, heavy machinery (they stripped Poland to the bone, even grabbing civilian factories' machinery, bolts, nuts and even metallic building materials like Dothraki on meth, of which the latter was true) and materiel from other conquered territories to pay the MEFO bills. So they soon mobilized their armies and launched a war of expansion on the rest of the world, starting with Poland. (The question is still open among historians as whether they annexed and plundered enough reserves with Czechoslovakia to keep the charade up "peacefully" long enough to let their Red "ally" make the opening move instead, but that's a discussion for another place and time.)
Their goal (next to getting gold and industrial materials to pay the enormous gambling debt of an empire) was to impose their militaristic Social Darwin ideology across Europe, outlaw any dissenting school of thought, enslave all the "sub-human" Slavs (after starving to death more than half of them to make room for German settlers in accordance to Generalplan Ost), and exterminate any "undesirables" (Jews, Roma, homosexuals, etc) on which they blamed all their problems because they felt that they were superhumans without any flaws. Any problem which they suffered had to be the fault of some subversive "other" from outside who tried to cause the Master Race misery for no other reason than "teh Evulz". But due to some severe strategic fuck ups from Hitler
who often overruled his military leadership and his generals (the situation is nuanced; basically there was mutual mistrust and both sides fucked up, but after the war the generals used Hitler as a scapegoat; the history is written by the living), Germany ended up in a three-way war with the Soviet Union (who provided blood), Great Britain (overseas bases) & the United States (more armaments than you can possibly dream of with an extra helping on top), while their only nearby allies such as Romania(The dudes keeping European oil fields) & Italy surrendered during the middle years of the war, and resource-starved Japan could do little more than be a distraction.
While Germany may have had some areas of technological/industrial advantage (at least initially, and this is often overstated), by the end of the war they struggled with the lack of many strategic resources and dislocation of production lines and reverted to some crude and/or outlandish solutions like using potato alcohol for V-2 rockets and meth-filled chocolate bars for Eastern Front troopers (when they decided to use the logistic volume for ammo rather than thick clothes which they had but decided to workaround with untested drugs-typical Hitlerite solution-). Severely wrong decisions in materiel designs like "flying wing" aircrafts sans fuselage, multi-charge megacannons and retardedly big tanks that wasted more engineering effort than several divisions of tanks and infantry, along with a chronic shortage of secure oil other than a trickle from Romania, there was no hope of repulsing both the Western Allies and the Soviet Union at the same time; thus the Nazi regime finally met its end when the allies marched into Berlin and Hitler *BLAM*med himself along with his mad-as-a-hatter common-law wife. While their hate-wagon managed to go far and temporarily overrun most of Europe, it simply had too much war to fight on multiple fronts, a lack of effective strategic planning in the form of Hitler and his cronies, and the fact that most powerful nations of the time opposed them either because they cherished their political freedoms, saw their economies fail, or simply were on the Nazi "to-exterminate" list.
So with all that baggage, how the hell did they manage to conquer most of Europe?
Two words: operational flexibility. In early half of the war, the German military operated on a principle they called "mission tactics" (auftragstaktik). The field commanders were given clear end state goals (such as: secure this location by such and such time), and then given free rein in HOW they accomplished the goal. This would lead to unorthodox and high risk maneuvers such as tanks charging ahead unsupported, heavy AA guns used as assault cannons, and the development of close air support sporting 'Jericho-trumpete', an extra gubbins that delivered a loud banshee wail to scare the strafees as the airplane dived (but also piss off the pilots of said planes, because the machines' maneuverability dipped, and the scream was even louder in the cockpit, driving them mad).
Against inflexible commanders expecting a repeat of WW1, such aggressive and unpredictable methods would frequently result in surprise rout victories against formless attacking waves that could easily penetrate a line and cause command to panic. That, and French incompetence, not on the part of of soldiers, but of the command mind you. The bone-headedness of the French Command led to overdependence on the "invincible" Maginot Line and failure to realize that modern tanks could easily pass through the Ardennes unlike the trench-crawling, smoke belching 5km/h clunkers from WWI. And when they realized it, they subsequently failed to coordinate the defense of France where they mobilized 1 in 8 men but couldn't send them to the right places because they didn't think to
give them enough use the radios enough (French command feared that the Germans would intercept their radio communications, so they still tried to rely more on hand/flag comms and couriers).
Nazi Portrayals in Fiction
Nazis are portrayed as an over the top wacky military who like leading extermination wars against the Jews (and other people) and build secret bases on the moon, under water, or some other silly place. Their technology is frequently exaggerated with laser weapons, armored suits, giant robots, walking tanks, and/or Robo-Hitler. Some vidya portrayals even goes so far as to put it all together in a big ball of LOLWUT and add a touch of magical voodoo shit because Nazi propaganda had a weird love for the occult.
Varying opinions on the perceived Nazi character allows them to be looked at from varying points of view, developing their character all the more. Take the Imperium of Man, for example, which tends to blend German-fascist iconography with Soviet politics and a Roman-Catholic aesthetic sense. Some will say that the Imperium's a nuthouse since they're willing to allow an Inquisitor to turn an entire hive spire into a towering inferno if he so happens to find a single heretic in*BLAM* SPEAKING ILL OF THE IMPERIUM IS EXTRA HERESY.
Others will say that the Imperium's just being pragmatic, and such an action is justifiable as the Imperium is constantly beset by merciless foes who will not think twice to bring them down, making their methods for survival cruel but necessary. Which, given the fact that daemons really do exist and can corrupt entire planets in a short amount of time and rape every corrupted soul forever and ever, is pretty justifiable. Even the Imperium's xenophobia is justifiable given how nearly all the major races pretty much want to wipe everyone else out or enslave them to be tortured to death as sustenance.
But that doesn't change the fact that these reasons are often just used as an excuse to torture and kill anyone who's even s*BLAM*
Impact on Fantasy
In terms of military logistics, the Germans had hands down one of the best armies of the time, well disciplined and well trained with experienced mid-level officers; this combined with borderline insane levels of morale at the start of the war due to years of giving the middle finger to the war-weary western nations which capitulated to their demands combined with revanchism of WW1, and turned the German into an unholy Juggernaut. The Germans were known to have some of the best armored tanks in the war, their small arms far outstripped the guns Europe had at the time, and they were pioneers in many advanced technologies during their time that have become well known today, like jet engines, cruise missile systems, fully automatic rifles (even with battery-run night scopes around '44), stealth craft, and many others. Tactics-wise, their eagerness to experiment with encirclement and mobile warfare whereas the Allies stagnated in Great War formations of firing lines gave them an incredible headstart and utterly broke the back of French armies and shocking the whole world; even Hitler expected a million Germans to die in the French war, yet France capitulated in weeks.
This, combined with their infamous cruelty have spawned the Nazi-esque villain template where the villains are both powerful and gigantic dicks to everyone else, making them completely despicable. This is because if the villain is significantly weaker than the protagonist of the setting, most people will still feel a few grains of sympathy towards the former or make them a laughing stock. But, when you make the villain both an enormous asshole and just as or more powerful than the protagonist, all bets are off and he's fair game.
Of course, the weaknesses of Nazism also need to be taken into account, in that a lot of their supposedly superior technology turned out to be highly unstable or otherwise impractical (such as behemoth tank designs that would have wasted immense resources better spent on dozens of more reasonable tanks), and would frequently be outclassed and definitely outnumbered by Allied designs once the latter got their shit together. This was even true at the start of the war: British Matilda II's were all but immune to German tank fire (from the early Panzers, before the later Tigers), and a column of them almost stopped Rommel at the Battle of Arras. Add poorly managed industry and the fact that supplies at times were delivered by horse (which was not actually that atypical, since only America and early war Britain were that ridiculously mechanized), and you have a faction that is the epitome of style over substance. This really bit them in the ass later when the Allies, focusing on production and strategy over science fiction and "tactics", managed to get a leg up the Third Reich, and battle-hardened Allied soldiers became the top dogs without question. To illustrate, by 1945 the typical American INFANTRY division could expect to have as many tanks as a Nazi armored division, and an American armored division could simply zerg-rush their Nazi counterpart.
In fiction, expect the Nazi villains to eventually have their technology and logistics outclassed (FPS and RTS games like Call of Duty, Warfront: Turning Point or Company of Heroes), made irrelevant via gimmicks (Sniper Elite, Commandos, Velvet Assassin) or at least stolen and turned against them (Wolfenstein), and the hardened heroes to turn Nazi soldiers into cannon fodder.
Nazis are the progenitors of all acceptable targets where human bad guys are concerned. Be it in vidya games or movies, nobody has a problem with Nazis getting gunned down by the hundreds by the heroes, and they don't even have to resort to the dehumanizing full helmets that most other villain goons have to wear to make slaughtering them okay.
A more comedic take on Nazis in fiction owes to wartime cartoons, where the soldiers and Nazi command are all bumbling idiots, with comedy brought to you by Walt Disney and Warner Bros. Hitler today has essentially been turned into a punchline with all the gags centered around him, which is kinda awesome when you think about it, as dictators that wish to be feared would never want to be remembered as a joke.
- The Skaven from Warhammer Fantasy and later Age of Sigmar borrow many Nazi-esque elements, which in turn makes them the most vile and evil race in the World That Was... Only it's taken to its logical extreme, as with many things Warhammer. Nazis had a hatred for what they believed was üntermenschen and believed the "Aryan" race was most pure, while the Skaven hate all other living things, including their own race, with each individual believing only themselves to be worth anything. Pack in some advanced Wunderwaffen, magical nuclear power in the form of Warpstone and chemical weapons as well and you have a solid, if over-the-top, Nazi fantasy faction.
- Thalmor from the Elder Scrolls: Skyrim is a fantasy equivalent of NSDAP, with robes completely ripping off SS uniforms, racism, genocide of "impure elves" and religious persecution of an enemy people in a conquered realm.
- The most extensive take on the theme of Space Nazis would be the Helghast from Killzone, where the people of Helgan see the ISA as Imperialist gits who forced them out of their planet for refusing their rule. Although by Shadow Fall, they become akin to Communist East Germans, being filled with political radicals and separated by a wall and all.
- If you have a fantasy/sci-fi world, it will almost certainly have some sort of Nazi analogue floating around. At the same time, Nazis also figure into a lot of alternate history fiction: Nazis invading England, Nazis invading America, Nazis successfully conquering the USSR, Nazis getting the Bomb first, Nazis creating an army of mutant uber-troopers, Nazis on the Moon, Nazis using occult powers to summon demons to aid them, all of these have been done. The Nazi obsession in alternate history is largely due to the fact that we consider them evil (for the right reasons), and our modern world is the result of an Allied victory. A Nazi victory, to us, is just unthinkable.
Long ago, /tg/ realized something that most competent GMs have: Nazis represent a great liberating force for any GM, for they represent a force that any player need not feel any remorse over resorting to violence against, because Nazis are the textbook template for villains in most settings. They desire world domination, see themselves as the apex species and view most others with utter contempt, wanton disregard for common life, have an industry primarily geared towards war, are the most powerful warmongers, and they have that evil-yet-sublime aesthetic to their armies. Nazis are a modern setting variant of using slavers as your enemy in a fantasy game: they have little to no redeeming values, so they're great enemy fodder.
The association gives the players a motivation and creates the understanding that these people are Completely Evil™, allowing the GM to focus on other aspects of the story. Indeed, one can get similar results by simply providing details that lead us to conclude that any group you are facing off against are this universe's version of Nazis. That said, that same context makes using Nazis a double-edged sword, and a lazy GM (or author, script writer, or whatever; this is hardly unique to roleplaying) can royally screw up if one uses them incorrectly. Used incorrectly, Nazis become a kitten-eating one-dimensional caricature of villains descended into self-parody, which can work if the world is built for it. Kitten-eating Nazis work best in "goofy" settings where it's fully possible, and indeed expected for the final boss to be Hitler himself riding a cyborg dinosaur, but in a setting trying to take itself seriously, such flat villains do just that - fall flat and fail to incite the proper emotional reaction. Remember that the key to successful Nazi use is that emotional reaction. That exportation of real world baggage is the point, perhaps the sole point to use Nazis over some other villain. Nazis have the additional problem of not even needing to be exaggerated that much to make the worst of them into something like this. So care must be taken when one plays the Nazi card, or it will come off as trite.
Entire stretches of d20 Past are shown various ways to implement Indiana Jones-style Nazis into any campaign during the early 1900s, and Savage Worlds has an entire supplement devoted to thwarting Nazi super-soldier plans during WWII. More clever GMs can do even more interesting things with it, such as backing up the savagery of the Nazis with a humanizing element to make them more understandable, even if antagonists, whilst another interesting setting, proposed for GURPS, starts the players off as Nazis and has them turn against their former comrades as the movement becomes harder and harder to justify. It's also worth remembering that Nazis can be used for comedy as well. All of these lead to some pretty great storytelling, just so long as the GM knows how to play them correctly and prevent them from becoming a wackier version of an Ork.
...And then you have this bullshit, which misses the point entirely and renders us all stupider for the knowledge of its existence.
Nazi Gear, Weapons, and Vehicles
If you decide to use Nazis as your bad guys at tonight's game, the link below is a brief run down of basic information on Nazi equipment. If you're planning to play them as protagonists, either make sure it's well written with an enemy that rivals or surpasses their evil, or you're likely playing Racial Holy War and should thoroughly reconsider your life choices.
Main Article: Nazi Equipment