View Full Version : How to make a successful military-style campaign

2011-12-18, 02:31 AM
By military-style campaign, I mean a campaign in which the party are members of a military or para-military organization in which they answer to superiors and function as parts of the whole military organization, rather than a completely independent group of self-motivated adventurers. It seems to me that such a campaign provides a nice change of pace from the stereotypical "murderous hobos" campaign.

For example, in the context of Star Wars, I would include a campaign where the PCs are all members of a fighter squadron, or are clone troopers/stormtroopers/whatever. In a Terminator RPG they could be members of the human resistance fighting against the machines.

I've been in a few campaigns designed to run this way in the past, and generally they don't work out. It seems like we often end up going rogue or at least operating so independently that the military aspect is in name only.

So my question to the Playgrounders is, have you ever been in such a campaign? How did it turn out for you, and what tips would you offer to someone looking to create such a campaign, in order to help them maintain the "military" feel of the campaign without putting the game on rails and eliminating player agency?

2011-12-18, 03:29 AM
I'm actually planning to hold one of these pretty soon, so I had a few thoughts about it.

What I'm going to try to do is put the player into a small fireteam and just set them to do open ended missions. Coordinating them with the rest of the army will be pretty hard so I don't think I'll bother.

Every single time I was in a campaign which had a bunch of extra NPC soldiers it always turned very boring when one player gave them orders while the rest watched them do the killing.

So to give an open ended example - send them to clear the area before the rest of the army arrives, let them scout an area on their own, let them do some special mission

And give them a hand in the discussion of the missions, keeps them occupied.

2011-12-18, 07:09 AM
One possibility is to embrace the independent decisions your PC soldiers might have to make.

Maybe give the PC's situations where a superior orders them to do something morally ambiguous (or outright disgusting) and see how the players break, bend, or follow the rules. Perhaps allow them to defect or even drop out of the war with a timeskip and allow them to see the actual consequences of their decisions.

Definitely give the PC's extended lengths of time when they're out of the direct scrutiny (they think) of their superiors.

The Witch-King
2011-12-18, 01:38 PM
You might want to make sure all the players are the same rank and that their commander is an NPC. We've often had trouble when some players decided they didn't want to take orders from another player and since then, we've had some people outright say they wouldn't play in any future campaigns where they had to take orders from another PC. I don't mind myself, or didn't with one exception, because, well--it's a game--you're roleplaying. But some people really don't like being told what to do. I was once a junior priest of the Church of Thoth in a Call of Cthulhu campaign and basically shouted "how high" whenever our team leader, the head priest, said "jump." I resented it but I was also thrilled to be roleplaying in an environment so dangerous there wasn't time to question orders or debate choices a lot of the time. It was exciting for me--but some people just won't put up with that.

We've run a lot of successful Star Trek campaigns. They work best with either an NPC Captain or the players themselves picking who's going to be Captain. You get two options basically when they elect a Captain--either they look for the guy who's so laid back he'll practically never give an order and will just let everybody do what they want to do or the guy who takes the role of Captain seriously and sits on the bridge and delegates authority to the department head in question instead of trying to hog all the glory (and the good scenes) for himself.

A classic example of the kind of thing that can cause a military campaign to collapse is the time aboard ship when the helmsman had nothing to do the whole episode and finally, at the end, we were about to pass through this dangerous combined asteroid and mine field to get to our final objective and the PC Captain ordered the helmsman to stand aside while he himself took the controls (our Captain had come up the ranks through helm)--you know--cause this matter was so important. It wouldn't have been so bad except that this Captain always had to be where the action was and always took charge of the scene as soon as he arrived. The game wouldn't have survived as long as it did except the player had a lot of personal charisma (the player himself, not the character) and his brother was the GM.

2011-12-18, 01:52 PM
Take some inspiration from the Black Company series by Glen Cook. Your players are part of a larger, experienced mercenary company that boasts career soldiers in an area where most of the soldiers are nothing more than simply trained peasants. They have a vested interest in making sure the company turns a profit by doing their jobs, and make sure the whole military feels like one big family that's getting pulled into political struggles in the area.

They take orders from a captain who has a very distinct personality, and that captain takes his own orders from the owner of the mercenary company who gives off a completely unapproachable aura. The job will be on you to make sure that their fellow soldiers in other parts of the company feel like a family -- and sometimes that family won't quite get along, but you're all there to do a job.

They can be hired out by various political factions in a city. They can be hired to fight a skirmish for a local lord who is annoyed by another local lord, but can't use his official troops. They can be hired to ferret out pockets of rebels. Most importantly of all, they will often work for people who don't want to pay them after they did their jobs, and they have to ... seek out payment from said person without drawing the law down on them.

Make them fall in love with their fellow soldiers, and fall in love with the idea of always having someone to back them up -- as long as they stay as part of the family. And make sure that they know that if they cause trouble, the consequences will fall on their family too.

One idea is to make them clean up after a few of their brothers who decided it would be a good idea to cause trouble, and have them see first hand how they get blamed for it too by association. The world outside their company will often be against them, but their entire company can't take on the entire outside world all at once... Not if it wants to come out of it alive.

2011-12-18, 02:03 PM
I'm running such a game at the moment. Its been pretty successful - level 1 to 16 and still going.
Whilst I normally run sandbox type games, my players actually wanted something more episodic, and so the game has progressed through a series of missions.
I went for a fusion between Cross of Iron, Sergeant Bilko and Paranoia.
The party are an independant recon unit who opererate behind enemy lines - which is the cross of iron bit. This means we can ignore most of the "orders" issues. That said we still have some rupert type issue the orders, and then there is dealing with the unexpected complications - which adds consequence to the PC actions.
The Sergeant Bilko aspect is how the army operates between missions, but thats mainly down-time coupled with a bit of insane orders.
The Paranoia aspect was the secret societies the PCs are members of, but that bit didn't really work. This hasn't mattered.
One of the players took leadership - so he got promoted to Luitenent. This actualy adds to the roleplay, but is played quite lightly. He was playing a cleric anyway, and they tend to take the lead in party direction in most games.
Because its mission based, I even get to play occasionally as we rotate DMs. I still run the downtime bits, but they run the mission.

I'm sure there are many ways to do run this sort of game, but many players have an issue with orders. Its not actually a problem and can actually add to the RP.

Running battles is hard and is a whole other subject.

2011-12-19, 07:06 PM
most of the campaigns I've been in were military campaigns. Theyre generally pretty plot friendly. Just set the PC's up as some sort of Delta force, give them their orders and let the violence commence. Though we did have one very confused DM screw one up pretty badly a while back. It was supposed to be a realistic WWII campaign, we were a paratrooper team consisting of several members of the 101st Airborn, a lost Royal Commando, and some Army chaplain that we'd picked up. Well the DM was out of Ideas (and had probably been playing too much Call of Duty) and sprung a Zombie Apocolipse (complete with Nazi Zombies) on us. The game ended with the army chaplain deciding that if the DM could make zombies in a "realistic" campaign then his charecter should be able to turn undead. (and use a "holy" hand grenade)

2011-12-20, 03:24 AM
From a more crunchy perspective, I suggest that you spends a lot of time considering what level of power and magic it would be reasonable for a military installation to expect and be able to deal with. For example, most forts in a D&D 3.5 world will have large amounts of sand and bead curtains to counteract invisibility.

2011-12-20, 11:25 PM
I'm currently play three times a month in a Pathfinder campaign that got a war of conquest going on in the background. It's strange and over the top, we've conquered a nation every session and done crazy things starting at level 1.

There are two main challenges. The first is our own self-directed politicking. Our characters are the Irregulars, rag-tag misfits with a Bugbear officer serving a mostly goblinoid Lawful Evil empire with some Necromonger-esque "Keep what you kill," policies.

The second is a superior (in both rank and personal power) who seems to have it out for us. He sends us off on what are intended to be suicide missions and steals a lot of our credit. His own superior is apparently aware of what's happening and seems impressed with our antics, but is content to do nothing about it.

Despite all being evil, we're pretty tightly-knit so far, with the general consensus of working to elevate our squad leader and being his indispensable agents. I'm assuming everyone else has their own agenda with perhaps one or two exceptions, but currently there's no intra-party strife.

2011-12-20, 11:56 PM
I'm in one now.

First requirement, we all had to be Lawful. 2nd requirement, we had an exam day to qualify for the role of ranking officer. I won! :smallbiggrin: The winner was chosen by the DM for her ability to make strategic decisions. The ability to incorporate effective combat strategies. And the ability to galvanize the group.

Due to our Lawful alignment, we are all required to follow the orders of the ranking officer. The ranking officer gets a +2 bonus to Diplomacy and Intimidate checks when giving an order to a subordinate that doesn't want to follow the order.

So far, my party has agreed with all of my orders except 1. The DM has warned me that he is keeping tally of the number of times I give an order that the team does not wish to follow that produces bad results, so I need to be careful about my decisions. If I force the team to do something they don't want to do, and it succeeds, then I'm fine. But if the plan fails, especially if a teammate dies or is severely injured, then that may cause circumstance penalties to my Diplomacy and Intimidate rolls against the team in the future, which may result in a mutiny.

The rest of the game plays out like normal. The biggest change may be the role-playing dynamic. But sometimes, in combat, everyone with delay Initiative until after my order, which is kind of cool.

On our turns (this is a house rule) we're giving 6 seconds to speak as a free action. Which means I can only give short and simple commands, like one would be able to do in a real combat situation. We do this to avoid what we call Dungeons & Discussions. But that means I get to bark out orders like "David and Stormy, take flank! Isobel, move to target's 6! Ready actions for my attack!"

We get into positions and simul-blast an enemy into oblivion. It's actually a lot of fun!

2011-12-21, 02:12 PM
Most of these seem to revolve around a special forces type game - which is easy to get to work obviously.
I wonder if you could do a MASH type game: Everyone starts with a level of Healer ? No one would be forced to stay with this class, but it could be amusing.

2011-12-22, 07:24 AM
D&D MASH Edition, eh?

Well... they'd be more like an NPC Adept/Fighter classes with max ranks in Profession: Surgeon or Profession: Soldier (Profession: Medic?) and Heal.

It wouldn't be very optimized, and it would be RP heavy (since effectively, they aren't the adventurers so much as the NPCs who heal the wounds of the adventurers) with almost no action, and therefore few opportunities to level up (unless your DM is super generous with RPXP. So, bottom line, the level of fun potential in a MASH style "campaign" would be directly related to the cleverness of the players.

A good way to inspire cleverness in a 9:1 ratio RP to Adventure campaign like this as a DM:

1. Create a great DMPC to fuel conversation. Perhaps the Chief Medical Officer. Maybe research some medical facts online, so he'll always know the right thing to do in an emergency, and have him/her be a real slave driver with no appreciation for anyone who appears to be out of uniform (more on this later).

2. Keep a tally of how many clever, amusing, or descriptive things a PC says while dialoging. Multiply that number by 10 and reward that to her as XP. Laughing sincerely and saying "You have amused the DM, 30 XP" goes a long way to encouraging good behavior from PCs in RP heavy campaigns.

3. Reward 100 XP/Level to any player who dresses for the part to the campaign. Even people who don't cosplay on sheer principle will find a med jacket and scrubs at the thrift store if they're a few hundred points from next level. Those who didn't dress up, get barked at by the CMO. "YOU'RE OUT OF UNIFORM! *grumble, grumble*" That'll show em... come to my session without dressing up... :smallmad:

2011-12-22, 12:34 PM
Well surgeons would probably be experts - not that it matters.

I was thinking more along the lines of the Knights Hospitilar. They started off running a hospital in Jerusalem, before turning into a military order.

You could do a heavily railroaded first session, where they are running a hospital, which ends in a cliff-hanger as the wheels fall off the train. They are then thrust into the spotlight as adventurers. This might work better in CoC or Paranoia rather than D&D though.

2011-12-23, 03:40 PM
Experts? Mmm... possibly.

Though technically, the highest Tier PC class in a more realistic setting for a MASH campaign would be Fighter, or maybe a non-magical variant TWF Ranger for the elite forces.

I was going with Adept for their healing and warding properties. I thought it would fluff well.

Protection from [Align] since the medical base was rarely ever under attack.
Cure [whatevs] Wounds to get the patients healed and the story moving along.

You could do that with a Cleric too, but clerics sound more religious to me than Adepts. And they would be a bit too OP for the type of challenges these players would encounter.