From the back room

Evening all. Ahead of our podcast about battles, here’s a couple of thoughts from Graeme on the subject of the military council.

Why the Military Council is not the sole province of fighters

I wrote a thing on this subject a while ago. I’m going to re-write it now, as for a number of reasons it’s pretty pertinent.

There are two basic aspects to the Military Council. The overarching campaign, and the battlefield opportunities taken.

The overarching military campaign has been referred to as a wargame. While it’s a lot slower than your traditional wargame, the comparison is easy to draw. Certainly it requires no physical skills, it’s purely a mental game, to put it in terms of the Crystal Maze. This is very much the Wellington role, directing the overarching campaign. I’ve also quoted a few others; like Maria Hill, Adama or Scorpius. These people are not physically imposing. They win wars.

The battlefield opportunities, while chosen by the MC, are for everyone who wants to participate. There is an overall field commander, who the generals select (generally, but not exclusively, from their own numbers). This role requires some physical ability, I think you’re unlikely to be able to command on the battlefield with a broken leg. But I’m not prepared to rule it out. The skill here is to survey the battlefield and direct troops, ensuring that objectives are met, flanks are covered, enemy weaknesses exploited, etc etc. Your skill in combat is a non-factor, but you’re likely to need to move swiftly around the battlefield. This is your Sharpe role, but I feel fits equally well for Peggy Carter, Sol Tai, Ivonova, Kira Nerys or John Crichton. The active commander winning the battle on the ground through their orders as much as, and in many case more than, their deeds. They win battles.

I’ve seen a lot of talk in places that they want their general to be their best fighter. This seems insane to me. The skills you need to be good in a fight are not the skills that will see you well in either area. This is not to say that good fighters can’t fill these roles, of course they can. But I can’t get it into my head why anyone would think that it’s a requirement.

I’m putting that 3rd role here, for the prime fighter. This is your best fighter, the spectacle. The one that all your troops see fighting and inspires confidence. They’re not generally a leader, they don’t have time, they’re too busy being some kind of avatar of death to be bothered about giving orders. This is your Patrick Harper, your Starbuck, your Hulk or Thor or Wolverine, your Superman, your Brienne of Tarth, your Aeryn Sung. They’re great, and they win fight after fight, one fight at a time.

Now my examples above are archetypes, glowing examples, picked BECAUSE of their lack of depth in the area in some cases. PCs are rarely so simple. Just because you are a sexy shoeless god of war, doesn’t mean you’re not ALSO good at giving orders. Just because you can read a battlefield at a glance, spot weak points in the enemy line and know exactly which group of fighters you think are best placed to exploit it, doesn’t mean you can’t also take the longer view and consider logistics and long term strategy on the world map.

To an extent, we’re putting generals in a position of having to be the first two, while there seems to be pressure, particularly within some nations for them to only be eligible if they’re the 3rd one. There are strong arguments that you don’t want your generals to forget that the little pieces that they move around are Lives, so favouring the “In the Thick of it” warriors seems appealing. But there’s also strong arguments that simply rushing in head long without proper consideration is a sure way to get everyone killed. There’s a balance to be struck.

Now it’s possible to build an Empire character who thinks being able to fight is crucial for military leadership - but it’s important to note that that just isn’t part of the setting. If I were playing a League citizen, a Freeborn or an Urizeni I’d openly ridicule you if you expressed that sort of sentiment in my character’s presence. Picking your best fighters to lead is every bit as dumb as sending your best leader our as your champion. It’s less clearly off-brief in nations like Dawn with their emphasis on glory or Wintermark with it’s emphasis on heroics - but the correct interpretation of the Dawnish brief is that almost anything can be glorious - a glorious general is one whose strategy carries the field - not one whose sword defeats the ogre. The Imperial Orcs are probably the most physical nation in the Empire - they expect their leaders to be effective fighters - but even there “Legions chose their own commanders… for their ability to provide clear effective leadership in battle”. If I were an Imperial Orc, I’d regard picking your biggest fighter to lead as the sort of dumb-ass approach I’d expect from the barbarians.

There are a lot of conversations going on right now about gender representation in Larp, and issues surrounding making people feel unwelcome in the room by the way you act. This post hits on some of that, in that there’s no reason that the hardest man in the room should be ruling the roost in this area. I’ve deliberately picked examples above from each gender for each role. This is Larp - anyone, of any gender identity, fits equally well into any role here, equal to the men who might “traditionally” hold that role in another game. That is by design of the setting, and the rules. A sword does one point of damage regardless of if it’s swung by a woman of 5’4" or a man of 7’1". Those two both have the same number of hit points. Calls affect them both the same. It is true that you need to be physically fit enough to wear heavy armour - but other than that most things where brute force would provide an advantage has been system-ed out.

So this has been a short treatise on the Military Council, and who we reckon it’s for. There’s a podcast on this subject coming up in the next few weeks, but that will be covering more interesting things like the actual meat and bone of the battles themselves, and also less interesting things like the numbers that drive the back end.

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The photo belongs to Rich Burlew. If you have not read Order of the Stick you should start doing that now as it is a core source for Empire. Arguably.

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