Conceptually justifying military rank, orders, and free form?

edited August 2011 in Story Games
Trying to work some ideas out in my head.
You are in the military, and have been given an order to go do X.
From a story driven standpoint how do I get them to do X without railroading...or getting court marshaled?

I am trying to create a game around this, but I am not sure where to start. Right now I am kinda thinking of a sort of "Orders phase" and "Drama phase" to give time to both but I am not satisfied with it.

Comments

  • Spirit of the Law vs. Letter of the Law?

    Does that help?

    I keep playing the A-Team music in my head.
  • I would say by virtue of the fact that I am playing a Military game, I have to expect a great deal of order-following. If the player's must create personal goals in regards to the military (from a list perhaps?), then it's not railroading if my character wants to be a good soldier. Right?
  • Maybe I could make a Court Marshal trial as part of the games resolution mechanic.
  • I ran a tribunal LARP years ago at a local convention. And at the end, everyone wanted to see a Court-Martial Larp to follow. I think your game could be all about the players doing what they want and paying the price for it. Just a thought.
  • Typically what I see in games is the orders given are big ticket things like "Take out the guns on the Island of Navarrone, they're hammering the fleet as it tries to sail by."

    The orders say what is required but not the specifics in how your are going to do it.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: Vernon R
    The orders say what is required but not the specifics in how your are going to do it.
    I guess that is kind of the complication I have cornered myself into. As the orders will be rather specific at times. It is scifi capital ship combat, and sometimes it will literally be an Admiral telling you "Here is the battle plan, go to x attack y." I am trying to find wiggle room for the players in something like that.
  • I've run a lot of military-themed story games, and this has honestly never been an issue at the table.

    Make X interesting enough, and wrap the game concept around it. If you have player buy-in, it shouldn't be an issue.

    Unless you *want* them to not follow orders? But that is a different question. What is interesting about a court martial if it doesn't move the story or the characters' development forward?

    Also, what Vernon said.
  • Give them control of the admiral, and then have them play out the orders they gave themselves. Double points if they have personal goals that conflict.
  • Posted By: Captain TharkGive them control of the admiral, and then have them play out the orders they gave themselves. Double points if they have personal goals that conflict.
    Well my original idea was to have most everyone play more than one character, or even a crew of characters. With ranks all the way from President to Engineering Chief.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: Caesar_X
    Make X interesting enough, and wrap the game concept around it. If you have player buy-in, it shouldn't be an issue.
    .
    Consider yourself lucky if that is true for you.
  • How about have a Court Marshall as the story frame, with some ritual/mechanics framing scenes through cross-examinations that eventually fade into full flashback scenes.

    Disadvantage is that it either takes the death of main characters off the table, or else front-loads decisions about that.
  • Posted By: thadrinePosted By: Caesar_X
    Consider yourself lucky if that is true for you.
    Seth, I think that's too easy of an answer. I'm happy to help break this down if you like.

    The difference between the games I used to run/play in the 80s/early 90s (i.e. you want us to defeat Darth Vader? Yeah...well we actually want to run a smuggling operation on a distant moon and stay the hell away from the rebels) and the games I run now, are two (well, really three) things:

    1. A tight and interesting situation that encourages engagement with the story.
    2. Player buy-in before the start of the game.
    (3. More mature players than when I was younger.)

    Which of those things is missing for you? Is your game multi-sessioned? Is the situation very open? Are the character choices very unconstrained? Are the players just not down with "the plan"?
  • It seems to me that you don't really need to justify it. The players are playing a military game, so it's a reasonable default assumption that they're willing to have their characters follow orders. I think your design time is probably better spent finding ways to make the game really cool for people who want to play in that genre than finding ways to browbeat people who don't.

    I am reminded of a player I dealt with in college. He had heard I was running a game of Vampire, and he asked if he could join, and I said yes. Then followed several sessions of me basically running two games: one for the other players, and one for him; and the one for him was an exercise in mechanical browbeating. After a while, I actually asked: what are you trying to do, by avoiding any kind of combat or conflict and by avoiding all interactions with other vampires? And he said, in effect, that vampires are evil creatures, and that he wasn't comfortable actually roleplaying that evil. To this day I am not sure why he wanted to play in the first place.
  • Posted By: cwilburI think your design time is probably better spent finding ways to make the game really cool for people who want to play in that genre than finding ways to browbeat people who don't.
    +1
  • Posted By: jim pintoI think your game could be all about the players doing what they want and paying the price for it. Just a thought.
    Whoa, an RPG similar to Kubrick's "Paths of Glory" would be awesome.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: Caesar_X

    (3. More mature players than when I was younger.)
    This one!
    For me it is, "This guy killed your mother!"
    "Eh, she was a bitch anyway, I give him the money for the trade"
  • Posted By: cwilburI think your design time is probably better spent finding ways to make the game really cool for people who want to play in that genre than finding ways to browbeat people who don't.
    You are probably correct. I just keep thinking of what "That one player" would say.
  • Posted By: thadrineTrying to work some ideas out in my head.
    You are in the military, and have been given an order to go do X.
    From a story driven standpoint how do I get them to do X without railroading...or getting court marshaled?

    I am trying to create a game around this, but I am not sure where to start. Right now I am kinda thinking of a sort of "Orders phase" and "Drama phase" to give time to both but I am not satisfied with it.
    A couple of approaches would be to include a resource economy (like fate points in Spirit of the Century) that rewards following orders, and requires a payout to not follow the order. A second approach would be to include a mechanism where following orders improves some sort of 'morale' ability (or cohesion or esprit, etc) similar to Stability in Trail of Cthulhu--and failing to follow direct orders requires a 'morale' check.
    Both those approaches have some interesting repercussions in terms of player choice and what's happening in the narrative of the game. When fate point pools are high characters are more able (and potentially more willing) to balk at orders. As fate pools decrease, characters adhere to instructions. In my head, this would look like the situation getting more desperate, so the unit needs to pull together in order to survive. Using a stability-like ability, the characters are more likely to follow orders when the situation is getting serious (in order to regain stability)...This may not reflect the dynamic you want...a unit becoming _more cohesive_ as a situation worsens, but it probably explains some of the epic defenses and other actions we see in history. The units that managed to improve cohesion under duress survive, the ones that don't improve, don't survive.
    You could tie following orders to a 'Belief' system, similar to Beliefs in 'the Burning Wheel'. Characters who act in accord with a belief earn resources useful to achieving success at tasks in the game. Beliefs could be tied to following orders, or taking care of comrades-in arms, or achieving some grand objective. The orders the characters receive provide the means to act in support of a belief. Characters who continually refuse to take action that would support a belief need to change that belief.
    In the example of characters being given a battle plan "go to X to attack y", you could perhaps take a step back in time and include the characters in the development of the strategy. Include the characters in a briefing to decide between attacking y or z. Then, once the target is determined, the characters get to decide how that target is attacked (frontal assault, by stealth, asymmetrical, etc.) And, since no plan survives contact with the enemy, it doesn't matter anyway! ;-)

    Mel
  • I once played in a military game where it was expected that we would follow orders of our commanding officer (who was one of the other players). There was also an enemy officer who had been captured by our patrol and there was one point where we had to defer to him and EVERYTHING BROKE DOWN. One of the players basically wouldn't buy in to this OOC and refused to budge. The game derailed for about 1/2 an hour where most of the other players were trying to convince him to just go along with it, and he and one other player(in some sort of bizarre attempt to "improve" the GM's scenario by increasing the military verisimilitude, I guess) blocked every attempt.

    The GM's a very cool guy who runs awesome scenarios generally..This did take a bit of suspending of disbelief (I was willing to go along) and finally play resumed. But it was, as you can imagine, quite chilly from then on.

    I think a clear advisory, that we may be called upon to make/follow outrageous orders, before the game really would have helped.
  • Take a look at 3:16 and Duty and Honour. Those are the two games that have the best handling of this issue that I personally have ever seen.

    Matt
  • Posted By: thadrinePosted By: Caesar_X

    (3. More mature players than when I was younger.)
    This one!
    For me it is, "This guy killed your mother!"
    "Eh, she was a bitch anyway, I give him the money for the trade"
    Make a game you all can enjoy, or find different people to enjoy the game you want to make.
  • Posted By: thadrineTrying to work some ideas out in my head.
    You are in the military, and have been given an order to go do X.
    From a story driven standpoint how do I get them to do X without railroading...or getting court marshaled?
    Seriously: do railroad them.

    You need to put down a framework for your game;
    - what is it all about?
    - what choices do the characters have?
    - how do they live with the choices they take?
    - how do you put the players in the pickle?

    "Railroading" may lead the players to the real playing field, and give them the opportunity to focus on the facets of their characters that is really interesting. Playing a military simulation, with orders being weak flags for the players to habitually break (they will, of course), is a dead game.

    So; try to make it a rule in the game that all orders are to be followed. Make it a game about soldiers following orders, and explore that premise. It has a whole range of interesting possibilities. You "railroad" them into a field of ethics, where the players are free to play out the justification of what their characters have done, their moral qualms, their encounters with families and friends that condemn the brutality (or who don't understand it, or even know about it), etc.

    I've had great fun railroading players into war-drama, and have had players shouting with joy over the ugly dilemmas they have faced. The point is to use "railroading" as tool to create a tense dramatic field, where really interesting character interpretation and player interaction is allowed to bloom.

    Good luck with your game!
  • Or you can throw out the military simulation idea and make it more of a commentary on the problem you have itself.

    In M*A*S*H, orders were routinely derided and chuckled at. They were an opportunity for comedy - a conceptual straight man against which the goofy characters would comedically try to achieve goodness.

    In Catch-22, orders were the enemy. Following them was literally insane, and would likely end up getting you killed for no reason.

    In Sgt. Bilko, nobody ever issued anyone any orders other than the very general ones for the post. Bilko then tries to circumvent the long-standing rules for his own benefit, and gets everybody in hot water.
  • So where is the heart of play for this game? You say it will be capital ship combat, admirals will give orders and the characters will have to implement them but what is it the characters are trying to achieve? Are they in this war willingly? Who are they up against? What's the rational for this war? Is it justified? Is it just an excuse? Is it propaganda?

    You come up with those ideas and the other problems will sort themselves out. You seem to want the players to accept the orders that they are given and not question them, there are a lot of ways you can do that simplest ones being either to get the characters to want to follow orders or have them fear failure. You need to adjust the setup to get the players to buy into the situation for their characters.

    War is a heady subject with lots of questions about human ethics and nature. No matter what way you set the game up you will be making comments on it as you create story in play.
  • edited August 2011
    Posted By: Vernon RSo where is the heart of play for this game?
    For the most part it is about finding a quick end to the war.
    For their characters it will anything like peace, money, power, etc.
    In the setting there are a bunch of fixed (well mostly fixed) "Big Events" that players can start off at. Essentially something like a Diaspora ->Succession war -> AI War -> Alien Contact -> Golden Era -> Collapse -> The Event -> Enslavement ->Etc. In the branching timeline I am working on players can start playing at any point, and at that point is a theme, and host of issues that are taking place, ideas, goals the players will want to shoot for (which lead to the next event) and NPC's to push the topics around. Depending upon where the players jump into the time line will determine exactly what there character desire. The players are going to try and do their part to fix the problems around them, and in so doing hopefully create a great good (in the macro level mechanic).
  • You should probably play Carry.

  • I have , and Burning Empires. Bother were major influences.
  • I have also played Carry (once) and BE (a lot), and I don't think they address being in the military as a functional thing nearly as well as the two I mentioned. Carry deals with the emotional baggage of the Vietnam war and also the genre of Vietnam war movies, but the actual military content is practically irrelevant. BE is about warfare, especially in the Invasion phase, but it's an unusual PC who's a grunt (maybe a relationship NPC or 2iC).

    In other words, I think they're exactly the wrong influences for what you say in the OP that you want.

    If you want games about going on military missions, and where the war stuff actually matters, check out 3:16 and D&H. Especially the latter—3:16 is more of a subtle critique of warfare, though it still does the grunt-level stuff exceptionally well.
  • Really, the one thing that it is going to make a military chain of command functional in an RPG is player buy-in and understanding of what it is, how it works and what it's for. Even when players are having their characters test the limits of the hierarchy they're in, if they've bought into the idea, it will hold up in play. I've run I dunno how many mil-themed games with a chain of command in place and it usually goes well for me. And I spend a fair amount of time talking about it with the players before we start, particularly for a one shot.

    Yes, do look at 3:16 and Duty & Honour, particularly the latter.
  • As a (non-combat) veteran, I think it is important to distinguish orders and mission. Orders are usually a complex, specific set of instructions on how you are supposed to accomplish the mission. Officers are generally expected to be flexible, creative, and driven to accomplish the mission, even if this involves bending some rules. Military history is full of hotheaded commanders who disregarded orders but fulfilled their missions well enough that they were forgiven -- think of Nelson holding up the telescope to his blind eye to avoid seeing orders he didn't like.

    The Army has after-action reports (AAR's) to review how things went after every operation -- you could have this as a phase of the conflict resolution, after the battle is done. It could even be a single roll, with bonuses for accomplishing the mission and penalties for disobeying orders. Bad rolls might effect the commands' status, making it harder for them to requisition supplies and making it more likely for them to get shit details or being put in harm's way. Then you have to take more chances to try rebuild your status. This opens up more space for roleplaying, as well -- doing something out of battle to piss off the admiral can hurt the whole unit.
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