There are a few schools of thought for playing characters in the military in role playing games. The traditional one is you start out as lowly enlisted or junior officers — this gives you the chance to be on any missions that might involve direct action — and let’s face it, military-style campaigns are about direct action. This gives the characters the chance to rise through the ranks and gives a sense of advancement and maturation, but it does have the limitation of them having to follow the orders of their superiors.

For the gamemaster, this is a godsend: you can direct the characters as needed to follow the plot without being too obvious in your railroading. It provides the characters with a goal and a certain set of parameters to achieve said goal. It also gives them authority with some protection of responsibility for any failure…you might get busted in rank, but unless you do something egregiously illegal, the command staff will soak some of the consequence.

However, there are players who will want more control over their game universe, who will want to be in the “center seat” to use Star Trek vernacular. Having your players run command level characters can seem somewhat limiting — not every commander is going to strap on his sidearm and take a Raptor (or beam) down to the planet to take charge. Nor should they — they are the captain and, while not indispensable (who really is?) they are the prime authority on the vessel and are the brains and motivator of the outfit.

This post was generated in response to a question on another posting regarding what to have command level people do in a game. The CAG is not necessarily going to be on every mission, unless they are a control freak or action junkie, or gloryhound looking to pad their military jacket. And those folks do exist…if it fits the character, don’t question it. The CO is less likely to be running about playing hero, as well — they’re older men (at least in their 40s) who are more administrators and politicians than men of action.

And that’s the key to the challenges they should be presented with: pe-Cylon attack, the CO of a ship is going to be wrapped up in politics…not just between himself and the chain of command — jockeying to get prime assignments, getting his vessel on exercises to heighten his profile for promotion — but also in actual politics. He will be trying to get noticed for promotion, which means publishing in journals on military affairs — tactics, strategy, but also defense policy. (To that end I created a Fleet Times magazine for our campaign, but also a Journal of Military Affairs, and a Journal of Military Theory that officers are often trying to get published in.)

Day to day operations mean the commander is overseeing the ship or fleet he’s running — making sure they don’t run out of food, fuel, water, that there are enough personnel manning the various positions. It’s mostly paperwork and handling disciplinary issues…it’s drudge work, and you can use that to create a sense of realism and boredom between the action sequences. Senior enlisted would be engaged in this, as well, in addition to lending a hand in turning a wrench, etc.

Disciplinary actions are also a big part of life, from dressing down the guy that is perpetually late to muster, to addressing crimes aboard, and dispensing justice. For court martial, he would be the lead on the tribunal hearing the case (unless it’s pre-attack, in which case there’s a good chance they’d just ship their problem child off to the nearest JAG office for trial.)

In a fight, things change. The commander is overseeing the battlespace and the fight; the XO watches over ship combat operations — taking the commander’s “Bring us about” into actual orders to align the ship as wanted, giving the gunnery crews their targets from the commander’s battle plan. Senior enlisted man the guns, or handle damage control teams, but can find themselves fighting a fire or fixing things. The CAG is out with the pilots fighting. Marines would be guard posts, but they also throw in on rescue of injured crew, fire suppression, etc.

In a post-attack campaign, if there’s a fleet, the commander would be engaged in politics of a different nature: trying to work with whinging ship captains, making sure repairs, parts, food, etc. were dispensed through the fleet. He would most likely be making visits to ships to shore up wobbly captains and crews terrified by the robot apocalypse.

Junior officers post-attack could find themselves getting assigned to whatever mission needs doing simply because the crew might be short-handed, overworked, or otherwise strung out. Sensitive situations, like dealing with a mutinous civilian crew might require a senior officer to go across and try to talk some sense into the ringleaders (or bash heads.)

In the Star Trek universe, the senior staff lighting out to handle every situation is a bit less realistic. Starfleet is chock-a-block full of smart, talented subject matter experts…or so it seems on screen. They’ve got scores of scientists, doctors, and the like in the TNG and later period: the captain and first officer are paper-pushers until a fight breaks out, so would be senior staff. This is a setting more conducive to the lower-level officers. (Although the “new” universe seems to be much more dangerous, and attrition higher, suggesting that go-getters find themselves promoted damned fast.)

As always, these suggestions are my opinion and may not mesh well with your group.