There are always challenges when putting together a group of characters for an RPG game, and a military game has special challenges. Like all groups there are the main issues:

1. Who does what? All groups specialize — Player A has a fighter, Player B a wizard and so on… In a military game, you have to decide what kind of group you need. Is it a special forces platoon or A-Team? A marine fire squad? Viper pilots on a battlestar? Various different positions on a starship?

First thing to remember for most military groups — and the US Marines stress this — you are a rifleman first. Are you an Arabic linguist? You probably handle radio work, translation or interrogation in a fire team, but you are still a rifleman. Skills will overlap, but your job in the squad might be different — for a squad, there’s usually one guy with the big radio, one with the SAW or M249, maybe one or two guys with an M203 (or if the war god’s smiling on you the new XM-25 25mm “Punisher” or six-shot 40mm grenade launcher.) Somebody might have a SMAW or Dragon for heavy targets…not everybody is carrying all this gear; weight is an important issue for the infantryman, even one that’s dropped off by a vehicle. Between your armor, MRE or two, your water Camelback, radio, ammunition, and weapon you are one hot and heavy sucker. Try running half a mile with 80 lbs of gear if you want to know why you don’t carry four weapons…I’ll wait.

For a special forces Alpha detachment there’s a 12 man team (often broken into 6 man squads) that are led by an officer or warrant officer. Everyone else is a sergeant (E5-E9) and specialize in something — communications, medical, demolitions, technical…everybody’s got a speciality, but most of the team cross-trains so that if your medic catches a 7.62mm projectile is a sensitive area, you can cover his skill set. When everyone is healthy and hale, you call for the specialist, even if your skill rating is higher than there’s for whatever reason. In real life, you don’t have a character to review — you’d call the “medic” for a first aid situation.

For games where the character do vastly different job — say you have four players for Battlestar Galactica: two want to play pilots (one a viper, one a raptor), another wants to be the chief, another the commander. Let them…it will require the GM to do a bit more work to make them work together, but — fraternization issues aside — officers and enlisted aren’t working completely separately.

2. The matter of ranks and chain of command: In a special forces team, most of the guys are going to be sergeants with maybe an officer. If the players have issues with being subordinate or superior to the other players, make the officer an NPC. Most of these teams went through hell to get selected; there’s a lot less of the military BS for the special forces, the men are much more likely to treat each other as equals, with rank being something they worry about when the brass is around.

For a military team where the players are enlisted, there’s a lot less worry about rank structure. If you’re not an NCO, you listen to the NCOs; if you’re any enlisted guy, you listen to the guys with the shiny stuff on their collars. (Caveat to this — most sergeant majors are given a lot of leeway by junior officers because 1) they have serious experience and 2) they work for company and higher level officers…they can put the hurt on you through that general, colonel, or major they work for.

If you have a mixed rank group — that being an enlisted guy, an officer, maybe a warrant officer — there are limitation to how they can interact. Most military have rules against fraternization between officers and other ranks. That will limit the “off-duty” interaction, and in the field there’s going to be a certain barrier. Simply put: the officer is your boss. But unlike a civilian boss, this guy can have you restricted to quarters, order more work on your schedule, or if they’re senior enough bring you up on charges. Sergeants and lower ranks aren’t supposed to fraternize, but they do. Warrant officers are the odd men out — you’ll see them in some services, not in others. These are technical specialists whose jobs require officer authority (say helicopter pilot in the US Army, or sailing master in the 18th Century British Navy), but because they aren’t commissioned by their government but warranted their position by command authority, they don’t often have the responsibility of commissioned officers. They’re part of the officer club, but no one looks too hard if they’re friendly with the NCOs, so long as it’s kept professional.

Next time: Some insights into military life they don’t tend to show in the movies and TV…