Taking Orders, Taking Charge
With the release of GURPS WWII, more campaigns than ever are based around soldiers, and an increasing number of players are stepping into the combat boots of military characters. One of the hallmarks of army life is the chain of command: the strict hierarchy of rank that determines every soldier's place and fate in the world. By contrast, most gaming groups interact as democracies (if not anarchies) and placing one PC above the rest is an unusual dynamic.
With the release of GURPS WWII, more campaigns than ever are based around soldiers, and an increasing number of players are stepping into the combat boots of military characters. One of the hallmarks of army life is the chain of command: the strict hierarchy of rank that determines every soldier's place and fate in the world. By contrast, most gaming groups interact as democracies (if not anarchies) and placing one PC above the rest is an unusual dynamic. Here's a few ways to give your military campaign that realistic, you're-in-the-army-now feel without stomping on someone's feelings or turning your gaming table into a one-player show. Though the mechanics of this piece are specifically targeted for the GURPS system, the principles can be applied to whatever gaming system you use.
Start 'em equal or make 'em pay.
The best way to avoid problems of command is to start all the PCs at the same rank. If we all begin as privates (or sergeants, lieutenants, etc.) none of us has any official command over anyone else. In essence, we have just created a democracy. Starting as privates allows players to figure out things like game mechanics and the nature of the campaign world before they are called upon to give orders. Additionally, even after their first promotion (typically to Private First Class or Corporal), they are still low-level enough to not be expected to issue a lot of commands.
If the PCs begin with different ranks, make them spend the points for Military Status of the appropriate level and pay attention to prerequisites of leadership and necessary skills as listed on the Job Table. Depending on the beginning points available to the players, this should keep rank levels fairly manageable or create '90-day wonder' characters who have rank and leadership but very few other skills. Such characters place a great reliance on the more competent (though subordinate) characters; officers like this, especially 2nd lieutenants, were common in the latter stages of the war.
Keep a sense of perspective.
When a player's PC outranks yours, try to roleplay appropriately. There is a place for the rebellious lone-wolf, but if every PC rejects authority the sense of military organization evaporates quickly. Try to follow out the orders as given, voicing any disapproval at appropriate times through the proper channels. Conversely, if you are in command of other players, don't seize the opportunity to boss everyone around. We're all at the gaming table to have fun; your PC should be a leader, not a puppet master. Try to keep the group together and involve everyone. Feel responsible for their well-being as a character and enjoyment as a player; don't view them as henchmen or extensions of your character.
Learn to love being a grunt.
Not in charge? Who cares? You don't have to be a major or even a lieutenant to play an interesting and satisfying GURPS soldier. Revel in being the hard-bitten Sergeant O'Rourke who has to find a way to carry out his LT's latest impossible order. Or be the goldbricking Private Malarkey from Brooklyn who's the first to crack a wiseass joke and the last to leave his buddies under fire. Some of the most memorable soldiers in fiction and film are the ones who weren't in command. GURPS is not a tactical war game like Axis and Allies, even though your campaign might be set in WWII. GURPS is a roleplaying system, focusing not on battalions and strategic maneuver but on individual people and personal decisions. Camaraderie and heroism are the important distinctions, not stripes on a sleeve or bars on a lapel.
Know when to lead.
The army differentiates between hasty and deliberate operations; so can gaming groups. In deliberate operations, commanders have detailed information about the mission and enemy, and have time to prepare and coordinate plans. Hasty operations involve decisions based on limited information and time, using only the resources that are immediately available.
In game terms, deliberate operations are often the mission handed down by the GM. Military campaigns are the easiest sort for leading PCs to the adventure the GM has planned: the party's NPC commanding officer simply hands out orders and the characters carry them out. When time permits deliberate operations, players can resume their normal democratic interactions and put their heads together, devising a plan of action approved by everyone. If there are conflicting ideas the leader might have the final say, but generally acts as a moderator rather than a dictator.
When the 88s start blasting and the PCs are committed to hasty operations, however, commanders should step up to the plate and lead. In a chaotic environment like combat, a leader provides direction and organization, uniting the PCs as a cohesive unit in order to complete the mission. A commander shouldn't micro-manage the other characters, but should implement a definite plan and focus the characters' attentions and energies to see it through.
Know when to follow.
Think what combat would be like for your character: the noise and smoke, the confusion, the carnage. Soldiers depend on leaders in combat: someone who can look at the big picture and know what needs to be done. Combat is deadly, and it takes courage to commit to a dangerous action decided upon by someone else, especially if you don't agree with it. The decision to follow an order that risks personal injury or death is the defining moment of the professional soldier. If the leader is wrong or the dice are unkind you may die, but if the order turns out to be the right one, you'll start to build a bond of trust with the PC commander and the gamer across the table.
Few moments in roleplaying are better.