I was surprised, if not shocked, in July of 2001 when Blackcat approached me about playing the role of general in one of his upcoming scenario games. I, after all, was new to scenario games. The play to which I was accustomed had a definite void of any type of leadership at all. I had done some homework and learned all I could about how scenarios work. I was reasonably well equipped. Could I possibly pull this off without making a complete fool of myself?
Looking back, there were certain expectations I held as the game approached. This would be simple, right? Perhaps like a rather large game of chess. Move, counter move, checkmate! Among my troops, there would be order. A chain of command would be established, and everyone would have a sense of direction and purpose. There is, at times, an advantage to not knowing what is expected of you. After all, ignorance can also make you unpredictable. I immediately enlisted the support of two of my teammates. Buddha would serve well as an XO, and ICE would be my eyes and ears on the battlefield. I planned a simple strategy; go on the offensive, and stay there.
Getting involved before the game definitely paid off. A command structure began to form. Frequent visitors to the game’s on-line forum proved invaluable. They were enthusiastic, and took their role-playing very seriously. These were the type of players with whom I wanted to surround myself. Clues to the storyline also periodically found their way to the forum.
I was given the role of General Robert Hodges, U.S. Army, Special Forces. My nemesis would be Henry Blankenship, CEO Kopeck Corp.. As the Kopeck general, he and his XO both had previous experience in the role of general. This, I must admit, was a bit intimidating.
Upon arriving at War-in-the-Woods, in Youngstown Ohio, I quickly introduced myself to the staff and other key players. Over the next couple of days, I would learn many lessons in the art of leading a paintball “army”. These are the lessons that I wish to share with you now.
First, arrive early. I was unable to arrive until after nightfall on the night before the game was to begin. I was able to walk the field but with only a flashlight to show the way. Fortunately, a couple of my friends from the forum were happy to show me around as best they could. I was able to get a basic feel for the field, but there’s no substitute for daylight.
Second, spend some time talking to the scenario director. Asking questions, even if they seem silly, will pay off big time. Typically, the scenario director is a very busy soul, but he will be more than happy to answer questions and offer advice. Listen to his advice! Remember, you are a very important part in making this game a success. You owe it to everyone involved to be informed.
Third, expect chaos! All of the expectations I held involved some sort of order. This was not the case. It can be very difficult to make sound decisions with paintballs slamming against the side of your command post. Units become fragmented, and plans go astray. The best you can do is simply to remain calm. A calm attitude has a way of rubbing off on those around you
Next, take your time, and think it through. Initially, I had fifty guys standing around asking for orders and wanting to shoot something. When the first orders from the command center arrived, things only got worse. The orders came in code. The scenario director prepared me for this, and I had a book that I used to decipher the orders. The troops, on the other hand, could not seem to understand why they were still just standing around. My point here is that receiving orders and developing a plan takes time–sometimes, an excruciatingly long time. If your XO is available, use him as a liaison between yourself and your teammates. You simply don’t need any added distractions. Your teammates mean well, and they want to fight, but let your XO keep them at bay until you’re ready to issue orders.
It is very important to assign someone to base security. This is most important at night when it is difficult to tell who’s who. It is very easy for an op-for to walk right into your command post and send you packing to the dead zone.
Get out there and fight! You came here to play paintball, for crying out loud. Yes, as a general you will be worth a certain number of points. In my stint as commander, I was probably shot a dozen times. I was proud of the fact that when “killed”; it was always on the front lines. Look for opportunities to get out and about even if you just tag along on a mission. Seeing your general on the front lines, slinging paint, and not afraid of taking a hit, does wonders for morale. Imagine the surprise on the faces of my adversaries when I, as general, single handedly took over their base!
Be good to your team. These people are here for a good time, and you should be too. Don’t go overboard with your orders. These are not soldiers, and therefore they cannot be pushed around. Ask for volunteers. Give newer players the chance to tackle the “good” missions. Don’t stick players with missions that they don’t want, at least not on a regular basis (everyone gets a crappy job from time to time). Let them rest when needed. Allow them to pace themselves. This will foster more of a team spirit, and in the end you get the most out of them.
The last two lessons are perhaps the most important if you want to be a successful general.
Communicate! Two way radios, earbuds, and push-to-talk microphones are worth their weight in gold. If you can out-communicate your opponent, you will have a tremendous advantage. With a good communication system, you can know everything that happens, as it happens. You will be able to react more quickly to situations that may arise. Find out who on your team has radios, and place them wisely. No squad should leave on a mission without one. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Lastly, don’t forget the storyline. It is so easy to get caught up in winning a war only to forget why you’re there. The story is typically worth big points. In all the confusion, chaos, and adrenaline, you must keep the plot in mind. This is a scenario, not a “big game”. Scenarios are a thinking person’s game. Sure, many players will show little interest in the plot, but this is ultimately your responsibility as a scenario general.
When the dust settled at the end of our 24-hour adventure, my elite forces reigned supreme. For this, I would have to credit our superior use of communication (there’s that word again), an absolutely fantastic and supportive group of players, and the other general suffering from heat exhaustion. Since I cannot count on an opposing commander getting sick, next time I will concentrate on these fundamental lessons to carry me through. And after the exhilarating experience I had in Youngstown, there will be a next time…