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Soldiers’ Stories

Today is Veterans Day [1] in the United States, also known as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day in many other countries.

Serving in the military is simultaneously dangerous, boring, stressful, exhausting, and frustrating. And the pay frankly sucks [2]. But it’s also one of the most satisfying jobs you can ever hold. Soldiers (and sailors, airmen, and marines) not only volunteer for it, quite a few of them reenlist, and even make a career out of it.

To all the veterans out there, and to their families, a heartfelt thank you.

Gaming and the Military

There are a great number of military traditions; any soldier will tell you that “being volunteered” is definitely one of them. As the resident veteran, I’ve been volunteered by my fellow Gnomes to “write something military” in honor of the holiday. (Thanks for the flashback, guys! Can I sweep the motor pool, too?)

Since I wasn’t “gaming while enlisted”, I can’t reliably address the state of gaming in the military, although it is quite prevalent in all branches of the service. Heck, there was even a gaming [3] convention [4] in a war zone [5]!

But military experience definitely influences my gaming. A couple of examples:


The infantry (hoo-ah!) would be useless without leadership [6], one of my favorite gaming topics. Even in OSUT [7] or Basic Training, I learned that a leader has to earn respect, and carries a heavy responsibility. Later, as a soldier who was almost always placed in a leadership role, I had to apply those lessons, and even learn some new ones.

As a GM, I regularly rely on lessons learned while serving. Leadership is indeed power, but any fan of Spider-Man will tell you “with great power comes great responsibility.” Most directly related to gaming, I’ve discovered that once the leader embraces his or her role, nearly everything is easier for the entire group. So don’t be afraid to take the wheel.

Combined Arms

One side effect of tactical training is an appreciation of combined arms [8]. An infantryman backed by armor, artillery, engineers, intelligence, and fixed and rotary winged aircraft is much more powerful than one backed by more infantrymen.

The gaming equivalent of the combined arms unit is the well-balanced adventuring party. As a GM, I can challenge the players not by throwing bigger and badder opponents at them, but by exploiting synergies to build a self-supporting group more powerful than any one component.

Be advised: If you are sitting at my table, and you see Kobolds, do not — I say again: DO NOT — take them lightly. That is all.

What’s your soldier’s story?

Enough about me; let’s hear from y’all.

Did you serve? Did you game in the service? What did you learn in the military, or even from exposure to the military, that you use in your gaming? Got any good stories to tell? (Somewhat clean ones, preferably.)

Sound off, and let us know!

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Soldiers’ Stories"

#1 Comment By Noumenon On November 11, 2009 @ 7:09 am

Most directly related to gaming, I’ve discovered that once the leader embraces his or her role, nearly everything is easier for the entire group.

Fascinating. Please write as many posts on the lessons you learned while serving as you can. Heck, if you wrote articles just about the military and leadership and skipped the D&D stuff, I’d still be eating them up.

#2 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On November 11, 2009 @ 7:52 am

[9] – The “leadership” link above goes to an article I wrote for TreasureTables.org, Martin’s first gaming blog. Leadership is a big topic, but it touches on the basics:


I plan to give a seminar on leadership and GMing at Gen Con 2010, as well.

#3 Comment By trisj On November 11, 2009 @ 8:58 am

Thanks for writing this.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On November 11, 2009 @ 11:19 am

I did not serve, but my younger brother did. One of the benefits of having a former serviceman in your gaming group is that they can quickly negate the BS some players might bring up about combat or firearms in order to gain an unfair advantage. Such as the infamous “No, a scope on an M16 is not going to turn it into a sniper rifle.” my group once had.

Plus my brother has made comments following someone saying that they want “gritty and realistic” combat like:

“You want realistic combat? Fine. You get shot, stabbed, whatever. Now you are out of the fight hoping that your buddies get you stabilized. If you do make it to a proper medical facility in time to save your life let’s hope that the doctors don’t have to amputate anything. How about we just play the game without the realism?”

He gets something that most gaming geeks don’t – combat is not fun, and most RPGs are about cinematic moments and not realism.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On November 11, 2009 @ 5:20 pm

My best friends in high school both joined the military, as did my younger brother. They are all gamers– though sometimes military schedules and restrictions make it tricky to run an ongoing campaign. My brother enjoys board games whenever we get together, and Scott is a big Warhammer 40k Tau player.

I wish lots of gaming to both of them– and hope to sit around a table and enjoy another game with them over the holidays!

#6 Comment By Martin Ralya On November 11, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

I’ve never served, but I’ve gamed with quite a few folks who have. On balance, veterans are some of the nicest gamers I’ve ever met.

“once the leader embraces his or her role, nearly everything is easier for the entire group”

The number of times I’ve forgotten this simple rule and fucked things up as the GM is depressing. 😉

#7 Comment By John Arcadian On November 11, 2009 @ 10:08 pm

My term in the armed forces was cut off early due to ta DODMERB bureaucratic decision about a medical insurance report and bad timing. So I can’t say I’ve ever really served, but I can say that I’ve trained to. A lot of the enlisted and officers that I knew at the time were into gaming. It is a great form of entertainment that can really help alleviate battlefield stress or peacetime boredom.

#8 Comment By bif On November 12, 2009 @ 3:55 am

I’m a Soldier and I game. Like John said, it’s cheap, you don’t need a lot (Savage Worlds Explorers’ Ed. and some dice, in my case- a few ounces total), it requires no batteries and has no moving parts to break.

Professionally, military peers interact in a very structured way. It’s crucial to understand both the purpose of the group effort and how you fit into it. You have to know how to be a good follower as well as a good leader, and recognize when to be which.

It follows that it’s no surprise we make good gamers.

In basic training, some recruits were cheeky enough to play D&D in the barracks on Sundays (the only real downtime available). They drew numbered chits of paper, 1-20, from a patrol cap to make their rolls, and the DM kept the rulebook in his head. They posted a lookout for indications and warning against Drill Sergeants. They bragged about their characters’ exploits in whispers in the chow hall line.

#9 Comment By Protohacker On November 13, 2009 @ 2:02 am

I served in the army. HUA! We used to spend many an enjoyable hour in the barracks past hours playing Traveler until the DS caught us.

To this day, I both play and GM like I’m still part of a squad. It’s not so much fun as a player as there are very few players I’ve met how understand how to work together in a fire-team.

But, it’s a lot more fun (for me) as a GM. I can take down the players with half their number, because I use squad tactics. I don’t have my NPCs just stand there and take fire; they maneuver into good tactical positions, use teamwork, etc.

I have to tone down the number of NPCS, otherwise my players would never survive. But, sometimes, it’s still a turkey shoot. I once had two gunbunnies take out nine PCs because they went into the CZ one at a time. I even had a GMPC to keep them from doing anything foolish, but the first thing they did was leave her behind.

#10 Comment By bif On November 13, 2009 @ 3:26 am

I set up a textbook L ambush along a trail in Deadlands and had my players quivering. Luckily it was only to send a message- the BBEM wants to torment them before he takes his revenge.

#11 Comment By penguin133 On January 31, 2010 @ 8:37 am

I have been a longtime Wargamer, once I discovered it was possible to recreate all the stories off the back of my eyelids; but I only began RPGing in the late 70s with AD&D in the Army, Royal Corps of Signals. The best and most imaginative Gamers I have ever known, I’m still in contact with a couple by EMail. It’s taken me twenty years to find a Club in Civvy Street!
Yee-haw for Moff the Mighty, JC Walks on Water and the Great Ninja!
Ian Winterbottom