Be sure to check out Sherlock!!!

As a true fan (which in my case is a euphemism for obsessive nutcase) of the original Sherlock Holmes mysteries, I want to direct your attention to something of true significance.

Here in America, the PBS station has Masterpiece Mystery!, a time slot on Sunday evening for running original mystery programs.

Last week, they premiered Sherlock, a modern day version of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

It was the first episode, and lasted about 1 hour and 20 minutes without commerical interruption.

There are more episodes to come, the next tomorrow night on PBS from 8:00 PM until 9:30 PM central time.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, ‘Sherlock Holmes in the modern day? Oh please no.’

If you respect my opinion on such things at all, and if you love the spirit of Sherlock Holmes and the original stories, I beg of you, give it one chance. It’s still set in London, and it’s very, very faithful as much as possible to the letter as well as the intent of the original.

I watched the first one tonight. A very good friend recorded it on their DVR, and we all got together and watched it.

It was… it was groundbreaking in it’s quality.

Watching it, the sheer SPEED of it, what I felt was that I was watching the first episode of something that, in years to come, other people would be referring to as an era.

Much as now, as we may discuss the ‘Basil Rathbone’ movies as an example of quality acting in the role, and others will know what we mean, or you could discuss my personal favorites, the ‘Jeremy Brett’ series of television shows, and again, it will call to mind an era of quality Sherlock entertainment.

This had that feeling. The feeling of watching something truly special, something created with love, energy… and snarky, delightful British humor.

Plus, throughout the entire thing, it felt refreshingly as if the writers and entire crew felt that there was no need to coddle or spoon feed their audience… they expected us to be able to damn well keep up, and it was delightful.

The first episode was called ‘A Study in Pink’, and if you wonder if it sounds eerily similar to ‘A Study in Scarlet’, well, there’s a reason for it. It’s a remarkably accurate portrayal of the first Sherlock story in which Sherlock and Dr Watson meet for the first time, get acquainted and end up sharing a flat together to save costs. It’s wonderfully true to the spirit of the original.

At the same time, the story, the plot, the setting and the atmosphere are just stellar. They took it and made it their own, and did a fantastic job.

I’ll be honest with you about this. I really liked the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movie, I liked the attitude, I liked the atmosphere, I liked the story telling.

I liked Masterpiece Mystery’s Sherlock MUCH better. If they can keep up that level of quality and acting and humor and fun, I’m going to be replacing Top Gear with a new favorite show.

Or, to put it another way, when I found out it conflicts/overlaps with Amazing Race, I said “Well, we don’t really have to watch Amazing Race. I’d rather watch Sherlock instead.”

The next one is tomorrow night. If you are at all interested in Sherlock Holmes, record it.

Yes, I know it’s Halloween. Record it and watch it later. You know you’ve got the bloody internet and gadgets and all that stuff. You’ve probably already found a web stream for the show you missed in the time it took me to finish writing this.

Dooo eeeeeeeeeet!

Update: I went to their website and found the show notes, and for series 1 it looks like they’re only doing the three shows, the one I saw tonight, plus tomorrow and next week. So don’t mess about, or you’ll miss your chance to see this.

If this works the way Columbo did, if enough of us watch it and honestly love it, we may kick this thing over from being an occasional movie into a regular series… and I think it’s WELL worth it.

Night Elves have some new competition!

It took a lot of hard work, but it’s finally paying off.

It’s been years in the making. Personally, I thought it could never, EVER possibly happen.

But it did.

There’s a new skank in town… and they call her a female Worgen.

I think it’s a little sad, but it doesn’t affect my play intentions in any way. I guess I shouldn’t feel sad, because I have no idea how women who play the game view the new female Worgen dance except for what Larísa had to say.

I hadn’t intended to play a female Worgen, I’m going to change my Druid race to male Worgen when they open it up.

As far as the dances go, I feel that most of the female dances in WoW are… charming. The female Night Elf ‘pole dance’ grind is an exception, of course, but I’ve always thought of that as an aberration. A relic of the old days, when everybody bought into the ‘cave dwelling socially inept internet porn gamer geek’ cliche stereotype.

You know, before everybody with a clue accepted that there are millions of living, breathing, intelligent, talented women who are also gamers.

And the female Night Elf dance does go hand in hand with the, err, umm, ‘suggestiveness’ of the male Gnome.

Ah, the male Gnome dance. The great equalizer.

I’m sure there are some folks who are going to be amused by the Lady GaGa dance moves of the Worgen, but when I watched the video, my reaction wasn’t amusement. Not even a ‘watching Punk’d or Jackass’ type of amusement.

No, my reaction was more along the lines of; “Really? I mean, really? This is what you came up with. Really?”

But hey, I wasn’t gonna play one anyway. No skin off my snout, right?

What makes me sad is thinking of all those millions of intelligent, fun loving talented female geeks out there that love to play the game, and who (in my imagination) were looking forward to a new character race, and will now be mildly annoyed to have that as the dance move for when they’re chillin’ with their guildies.

I might be totally off base, but whereas fun loving, flirtatious, free wheeling and adventurous dances are all great, there’s a fine line between flirtatious and skanky.

This? This hops right over that line wearing a bunnytail leotard. Do the skanky hop. Hop hop hop!

I really did think that, after the first iteration of WoW design, we’d moved past that kind of team programming decision, but hey. I AM a real old bear. I probably just don’t get it.

Now, I’m assuming a lot here. I’m assuming you’ve seen the video, because it was on MMO Champion. Just in case, I’ll post it here. The dance is from Lady GaGa’s video ‘Poker Face’.

Now, it’s all really pretty silly. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a dance, after all.

How much is each races’ personality flavored by their associated dances? You’ll see them all the time, in the events you take part in, the machinima you watch, the mailboxes you use, all over the place. Going forward, your mental image of the female Worgen will inevitably include that dance as part of their… flavor.

What flavor? Why, tart of course. 🙂

What I think is the MOST amusing part of this entire situation is how this is just one more example that Blizzard needs to sit all their folks i one room and figure out where they want to go with the game. What is appropriate and funny and cool, and what ain’t?

It’s a big company, but you should expect a certain amount of consistency in the stuff they include as in-jokes or fun, and what gets excluded as inappropriate. 

The female Worgen dance didn’t get done by some lone guy in a garage working on a Mac saying “hur hur hur”, it came out of a team meeting where options were discussed, debated, and decided on. It represents a decision made internally by a team. As such, it shows what that team considered appropriate for the game in terms of source material used, target audience, and entertainment value. And, as it’s the brand new race for the brand new revitalizing expansion, it’s presumably going to have a big presence in the game for, oh, the next three years or more.

Programming that dance, with all of it’s choreographed moves, was not a simple task. It took quite a lot of time to complete. Time spent coding equals money equals resources. That dance cost Blizzard quite a bit in terms of those resources that they can’t afford to spend on individual class quests.

Ooops, sorry. Slipped on a snark.

Okay, so, no big deal. I personally think it’s kinda lame, using the dance from a Lady GaGa video.

I’ll be honest, I really like her as a performer, and I’ve purchased several of her songs (sue me, I like dance music, and I really like Bad Romance). But I have no illusions concerning her relevance or potential longevity. Lady GaGa is the poster child for “Live fast, get some singles, love the fame, then vanish into VH1 history”. She’s an internet fad driven by controversial behavior and media saturation as much as anything else. She’s good, but she’s not exactly Britney Spears or Madonna in terms of recognition or staying power on the pop charts.

The most awesome part of all of this is the part where you just have to step back and ask yourself, “Do they even talk to each other over at Blizzard HQ?” See, this got revealed within days of something else that, to me, portrayed a completely different attitude.

I know it’s unfair of me to quote people’s actual words in context, but hey… if you don’t MEAN it, or you don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, DON’T SAY IT.

Saying “I don’t know”, when true, is a perfectly acceptable answer to me. Saying “I don’t want to tell you why we make our decisions because you’re all just going to whine about it later on the internet” is ALSO a perfectly valid answer to me. I can respect honesty.

I’m talking about the Blizzard response to why they changed the name of the Feral Druid Talent “Nom Nom Nom” to “Blood in the Water” in 4.0.1 for Cataclysm.

The reason why they made this change, and I quote from the BlizzCon 2010 Class Q & A panel, is;

It’s an internet meme that will be less funny in a year, and will embarrass us in 3 years.

That was their reason, in their words, for why they changed the name of a Talent that, as far as I know, was met with universal enjoyment when first rumored to exist, let alone the joy when it was really found to be in the game. A Kitty Talent called Nom Nom Nom? Are you freaking serious? Awesome! Bravo, Blizzard.

And then of course they changed their minds. They changed it before it went live, first to Feast of Flesh, and then to Blood in the Water.

You know, I’m not a shark, I don’t have a shark form, it looks more like a manatee to me. I’m from South Florida, so maybe that’s just me, but I think of it as my “hippo of the sea” form. And even if it was a shark, I don’t fight in that form. Blood in the Water? As a replacement for Nom Nom Nom? Just, no.

Now, maybe the truth is somebody somewhere copyrighted the phrase Nom Nom Nom, so legally they can’t use it. I can see that. I’ve seen weirder, that’s for sure.

But they didn’t SAY that when asked in a Class Q & A panel. And you’d hope they tried to give the person a good answer, right? Not just throwing out some bullshit, or mocking the person for being stupid, or blowing them off. They gave a serious answer because they respect that somebody waited in line to get a response for their question. Someone who presumably spent a great deal of money just for the priviledge of attending a celebration of Blizzard’s games, is a paying customer of Blizzard, and who cared enough to wait in line in the hopes of getting their question answered for themselves and their community.

The serious response to his question was, It’s an internet meme that will be less funny in a year, and will embarrass us in 3 years.

And then we get the female Worgen dance? Oh yes, that is just the FUNNIEST dance, not just now, but three years from now. Oh yes, the relevance and flavor of that dance will certainly live long and prosper. 

I’m not upset, or ranting, or irritated, or anything except IMMENSELY amused.

It’s like, “Left hand, this is right hand. Umm, dude. I’d like to have a meeting with you, maybe over some bubble tea? ‘Cause I’m hearing things about what you’ve been up to over there, I’m not naming any names, but I just don’t know what in the HECK you do over there anymore. I think we need to touch base and get this stuff nailed down. I’m getting some word that you guys are doing some funky shit, and maybe didn’t get the memo that, we’re Blizzard, We’ve got 12 million subscribers over here. This is serious business.”

I was a little disappointed in Blizzard when they dropped the awesomeness of Nom Nom Nom. Honestly, when I first heard that was the name of a new Feral Druid Talent, my first thought was, “Wow, I really didn’t think Blizzard’s devs were that cool and ballsy to go for that. I’m impressed with them. Rock on!”

I’m INCREDIBLY surprised at the Lady GaGa female Worgen dance. That just makes no sense to me, stylistically, thematically OR in keeping with consistency.

But what the hey, none of it matters, but damn is it funny in comparison.

Announcing changes to the Big Bear Butt blog

I have a few announcements for you, my friends.

First, I want to thank all of you who have read my writing here on the blog, whether it be just once or for months and even years. I may not have been the most consistent writer in terms of topic or mood, but I have always tried to be honest with myself and with you. Even in the most grumpy of my posts, I’ve always tried to be entertaining. Failing that, I’ve gone for distracting. Failing even that much, I’ll settle for irritating.

I’d especially like to thank everyone who has ever commented on the blog, or who has taken the time to email me with questions, or just to say hi. You may not understand how it feels unless you’re a blogger, but when someone takes the time to go out of their way to say “hi !”to you, it really does lift up your spirits and help you feel connected to the people on the other side of your writing. Talking into a vacuum becomes akin to talking to yourself… and I’m crazy enough already, thank you very much.

Verily, if your commenting here has helped me maintain what passes for stability, you’ve performed a valuable public service. Thank you.

Second, I want to let you know that the Big Bear Butt blog, written by me, the BBB, will continue. It’ll be right here. I ain’t going anywhere. I like you folks, and I love writing. I’ll keep writing posts, and they’ll go up here. Sometimes, if I pester her enough, Cassie will hopefully post as well. I don’t foresee there being many changes in the tempo, OR the length of my bearwalls. Just so you know.

Third… what KIND of posts I will write ARE changing. This is my big announcement.

If you come here to read the randomness that goes up, well and good, nothing will be really changing for you.

Storytime, trucking stuff, WoW stuff and life in general, RPG stuff, my Converging Forces story, whatever happens to be my enthusiasm that particular day, basically exactly what I’ve been doing here for the last year. That’s going to continue.

Here’s the deal. If you only have me in your feedreader because every once in a blue moon I put up something about World of Warcraft Druid Bear Tanking, if that is all you are interested in, if you’ve been getting tired of all these “offtopic” posts… now is the perfect time to take me off your feedreader.

Keeping me on your feedreader is just like trying to teach a bear to rappel down a mountain without tempting him with bacon first. All it does is irritate you, and if you get angry and demonstrative, piss off the bear. Nobody wins.

So if that’s what you’re here for, theorycrafting posts and the latest news about WoW Feral Druid Tanks, it’s been a wonderful run, but it’s time we said our farewells, and our courses began to diverge.

Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog, and I hope that you have, at least once or twice in the past, found my site useful for preparing to tank in general and as a Bear Druid in particular.

God bless.

Why the sudden change. It’s pretty much a change that’s been coming for a long time.

I originally started writing guides and tips on Feral Druids in the beginning, years ago, because there was nothing whatsoever out there for Bears. I loved my Bear, everyone said you COULDN’T be an effective Bear, and I knew that was hooey. I loved it, and I felt that with some encouragement and a few tips, others would discover it was super fun awesome time too.

Sure, it was presumptive of me to assume that the advice I felt I had to offer would be either helpful or welcome, but what the heck. I didn’t really expect any audience except for my small circle of friends. So, no worries. I figured maybe 7 to 10 folks would see what i was writing, and we could chew the fat over this or that.

The biggest thing really was I wanted to have fun writing and I really did feel that I could fill that need, and help folks wanting to get started if someone somewhere had actually Googled “How the heck do I bear tank?”

It’s been a long time since those days.

Heck, it’s been a VERY long time since I was the lone Feral Druid voice in the blogosphere. A VERY long time. It’s been so long, that entire new MMOs have gone through beta, went live, and then hit the bug zapper since anything I wrote was fresh or relevant.

Nowadays, if you’d like some theorycrafting tips or advice on playing a Feral Druid, there are many people out there not only writing useful blogs, but who really want to be the person you can rely on for your Feral Druid knowledge. Sure, some of them are craving attention, desperate to be noticed and admired for their big brains, but others are genuinely nice people that are coming into their own voice and have new, fresh ideas and experiences to share. There are a lot of really valuable, wonderful writers out there that would love to help you.

All of them are out there, both the arrogant asshats and the super-considerate helpful writers, and more are beginning their blogging journies every day. I am now far from alone, and you no longer need my ancient experiences to guide you. As if you ever did.

You need a fresh perspective and a new vision. 

If I’m going to be totally honest, I was never really cut out to be the “mentor” website person in the first place. I tried my best, but in time I did discover that a lot of people that read theorycrafting sites, and write theorycrafting sites, and comment on theorycrafting sites are driven by a desperate need. A need for what, I genuinely don’t know, but there is a lot of competitiveness in the theorycrafting arena, a lot of arguing for the sake of trying to score points, or be “right”, or whatever. A lot of ego on naked display.

It’s out there among bloggers, too. I’ve seen bloggers that never say anything unless it’s to comment about how someone else is wrong and start arguments and link back to themselves, and I’ve seen bloggers that comment in other’s blogs that if you want to read a “real” theorycrafting blog, go back and see them instead of this crap you’re looking at. No lie.

I’ve seen enough in dedicated theorycrafting sites to know I’ve seen too much. I have nothing personally to prove to anyone, no desire to be the big bear on campus, just a delight in writing and having fun.

Back when I saw the ever increasing rise of nastyness in the comments here and in the blogospere in general, I decided to let the theorycrafters and elitists go jerk themselves off and stopped writing those kinds of posts. I’ve never regretted it, not one single day. Many of the most offensive I simply blacklisted. The tone around here improved overnight. If you feel you have the right to piss in other people’s pools, don’t be surprised when they don’t invite you back for the next party.

I’ve never really thought of myself as being smarter or more knowledgeable than anyone else. I never considered myself a “theorycrafter”. I’ve always figured, if I could do it, anyone could, and wouldn’t it be nice if someone was there to offer some help and suggestions so they didn’t make the same stupid mistakes I did?

With that in mind, I always tried to write guides and tips and suggestions and lists aimed to help encourage people to be confident, to learn the fundamentals, to be brave enough to get out there and find their own path, and to understand how everything works together well enough on their own to make informed decisions, relying on no one, and certainly not on any website to tell them what to do.

I’ve never wanted to be the guy that does a guide that says “You must do what I say, follow this checklist, and come back here so I can tell you what to do next.” I’ve wanted to be the guy that says, “Here, these are the tools that will help you get started. Go, learn how to use them, and become a greater Bear Tank than I ever was. Discover your true potential, and be the best you can be. Now go forth, and rock the joint. And if you think of me… bounce.”

I’m looking around the blogosphere now, I’m reading Elitist Jerks, I check out the Druid column on WoW Insider (love you, Allison Robert!), I see the new posts going up daily on the Inconspicuous Bear and The Bear Flank and others too numerous to mention, and I can see that the function I was once covering is taken care of very well these days. I am an archaic heirloom of times gone past, and there are now plenty of non-asshat Feral Druid bloggers that write for normal people, not just to impress other elitists with how mathy and special they can be.

For me, the final decision to stop writing guides and Feral Druid rules posts came when I knew that I will not be raiding or even running instances come Cataclysm.

I do think that a person that is going to be assuming the mantle of authority for writing tips and strategies about performing your role in group events should actually be performing that role in a group in the latest content. The writer should speak from personal experience about what works, and what doesn’t work.

That ain’t me right now. And it won’t be me.

And so, to the wonderful people that have come here for Feral Druid guidance in the past, to you I truly do breathe a sigh of farewell. It’s been a wonderful journey together, but you have many more miles to go yet ahead of you, and many more adventures to share. Here by the fire is where my bones wish to lie, sleeping warm and snug while the cold of winter rages on outside, but you hear the wind howl, and feel not the cold, but a delicious excitement at the prospect of a new dawn, and a clear horizon.

Go you on your journeys, discover the adventures that yet lie in wait, and know that I begrudge you nothing, and I wish for you only the best in all that life and WoW has to offer. There is nothing more that I will have to give you, no guidance, no teachings, no wisdom. All that I have to offer you now are my well wishes and prayers that your journey will be a prosperous one, and as you do head out into the Cataclysm of tomorrow, know in your heart the truth that your journeys are yours and yours alone.

Thank you all, so VERY much for allowing me to feel that I have been of help to you in the past. My own journey with you has been fun, but there is bacon on the fire, and I’m so very tired…

When you find yourself in the front of the pack, charing into the enemy, if you happen to think of me, I only ask…

Do it on the Bounce!

My Mage be makin’ BACON!!!!

It finally happened. It took a long time, way too bloody long all things considered, but this Bear finally achieved one of my pre-Cataclysm goals, thanks to Cassie.

My Mage, the first and only Mage I ever created, has (as I’ve said previously) only been played as part of a team, following the lead of Cassie the Superbear.

Cassie, who, and I really can’t say this enough, has the most amazing spacial awareness of anyone I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t matter what direction I pull the mobs from with my 40 yard Ice Lance, or how many she’s already holding, she grabs the incoming mob before it’s even halfway near us.

Growl and Feral Faerie Fire on incoming mobs are your friends… and most of the time, Growl is irrelevant unless I’m just going to town. FFF does some amazing threat.

Anyway, we’ve only played these characters together, and we’ve taken so long on leveling that both our characters have the Achievement for saving a town from the Headless Horseman… from last year. 🙂

But I had a dream.

It was a simple dream, of modest proportions.

Nothing revolutionary, nothing to set the world on fire. But an important dream to me, nonetheless.

I dreamed of a day when I could proudly march into a field of Murlocs, transform them into Pigs, and use my powerful fire abilities to make my own Bacon, on demand.

My ice abilities, of course, would be helpful in saving leftovers. But it’s bacon; leftovers? Yeah, right. 

That was my dream. A do-it-yourself Bacon kit; just add Murloc.

Last night, my dream finally came true.

We started out the night at level 57, and I mean 57 and 1.2% into the next level. We had some quests in Un’Goro Crater on our books, but after that, we weren’t sure where to go.

We’d done some solid playing the nights before, and had managed one level per night, so I had hopes we’d see Hellfire Peninsula, or at least come darn close.

Instead, through Cassie’s dedication and tanking skills and my ability to hit a “fwoom” button, we plowed through Un’Goro, nailed 58, popped into Hellfire and blasted all the way through to 60.

I’d like to personally thank the jackass level 80 Blood Elf that helped make this possible, who waited for us to kill all the Ravagers in an area before swooping in on a broomstick to snag the egg and then fly off out of sight overhead… just to do it again on the next egg we cleared the way to. I’ve never killed so many Ravagers before when doing that silly quest, and it helped a lot.

I’m happy to say that all of the commenters on my previous post were right; while there are bugs in the Mage class quest chain that results in learning the Pig Polymorph spell, it is still in the game, and is still perfectly available.

The first bug that can be misleading is when you pick up a quest from a Mage Trainer, a quest that will send you out to find the actual quest giver in Azshara. For Alliance Mages in Stormwind, the quest was called “Magecraft”.

When picking up that quest, if you zone or log out, the quest is gone when you return. That can be very misleading; you don’t need that quest at all, you can go directly to Azshara and get the quest from the source, no pre-requisites.

The second potential bug is when you are directed to Polymorph targets in order to create polymorph clones. The quest expects you to use your Sheep spell. If you have the Penguin glyph enabled, it will bug out and crash the quest. So make sure you use Sheep.

The quest itself turned out to be very fun. Initially, it sounded like a big drag, because you have to Sheep a target, and  then after 2 to 3 seconds, the target spawns from 1 to 5 polymorph clones that look like super-teeny tiny little sheep… that are FAST as hell, take off in all directions like they’re sensitive areas were on fire, and are NOT tab targetable.

These are the things you need to kill. And you need to kill 50 of them.

My first two or three sheeps, I tried to nail the Polymorph Clones with Ice Lance, and only got one before the rest died of old age.

Next I tried Sheeping the target, and then standing on the Sheep and prepping Arcane Explosion to fire when the clones appeared. that didn’t work worth a damn, though, because they quickly rocket out of the Arcane Explosion AoE.

But finally, I simply chose to Sheep a target, and then drop an old fashioned Blizzard right on top of the sheep before the clones appeared. This broke the sheep early, but the clones appeared INSIDE the AoE and popped instantly.

That was a lot of fun!

A long night, but a merry one. The very thought of knowing that I hold the power in my hands to not only transform my enemies into Pigs, but to kill them, roast them and make delicious BLTs out of them fills me with glee. No, not that kind of Glee.

THIS… this is true power. This is the heady feeling of power that can corrupt even the mightiest of mortals.

In other news, I have four versions of Polymorph; Sheep, Pig, Turtle and Rabbit. Yes, Rabbit. I planned ahead and ground out the chocolates so I could buy the Tome of Polymorph: Rabbit during the Easter in-game event, even though I knew I couldn’t use it for about 30 levels or more. Totally worth it.

It looks like all that’s left right now is the Black Cat. There was a Turkey datamined and can be seen in WoWhead, but it lokos like it never went live. Man, turkey? Can you imagine? Bacon is epic, but what about making my own bacon WRAPPED turkey? Club Sandwiches, anyone?

Thank you Cassie, for dragging my Mage butt all over the world just so I could make darn sure I could be makin’ some bacon before the Cataclysm. I do solemnly swear to never polymorph a Druid, no matter WHAT the form they’re in.

Military units and ranks for RPG game design

The purpose of this article is to establish a baseline understanding of ranks and numbers of a modern military force structure, in order for a GM to be able to knowledgeably develop their own military forces in alternative fictional settings. 

This breakdown is for use only as a comparison, when determining what ranks may be desired for various unit sizes, and to help in using the most common terminology when describing force sizes.

It should be remembered that even though there are numbers listed for unit sizes, these numbers do not reflect the reality of a unit on active duty. They are ‘optimal’ numbers. At any given time a unit’s actual force will be reduced in size by having some soldiers in transport to and from the unit, being deployed on temporary additional training exercises, or out of service due to sickness, wounds or as casualties awaiting replacement. Even in garrison duty during peacetime every unit has a certain number of personnel that will be out of action due to training injuries or accidents, plus the additional reason of scheduled vacation or home/shore leave.  

When developing a set of forces, the GM should also address a comparative strength of a force and its reputation through more than just numbers. Experience will vary between units, training methods may differ drastically, the morale and cohesiveness may vary depending on how long a unit had worked together and what they had accomplished together, and depending on the game world your units may have a greater or lesser chance that a given unit will posses seasoned combat veterans.

Additionally, no matter how seasoned a unit, some personnel will be inexperienced recruits taking the place of those that have come to the end of their current tour of duty, have been transferred to other units, or have fallen in combat.

Finally, any force of Company size or greater generally has a large, possibly very large number of support personnel who accompany the unit. These support personnel do not themselves directly fight, but provide essential duties including supply organization and logistics, battle surgeons and medical aid, and administrative assistance (ptracking who gets paid, and making sure it gets done).

As a commentary on the importance of these functions, when deployed into enemy territory, no large force can effectively fight  and manuever while at the same time living off the land or hunting for their food and water. Food, clean water, armor and weapons and the facilities to repair them, bandages and medicines, all of these things are vital, and the more effective a unit is at managing and protecting their supply lines the better.

The size of Support Detachments can vary greatly depending on their competence. They can number anywhere from half the size of the fighting unit to three times their size or more.

*Special Note – As another example, in modern times it often takes as many as 15 non-combatant Support personnel to enable one soldier to fight on the front lines. This is absolutely true, and is usually portrayed in movies as a clear division between those who stay safely ‘in the rear with the gear’ in support roles, who keep their uniforms pressed and boots shiny and generally have no conception of the realities of the serious business of war coming face to face with the weary grunt fresh in from the field who looks like he slept in his uniform for a month and has a much-loved hobby of rolling in mud puddles. How fair such caricatures may be depends entirely on the leadership of both the support elements and the front line elements, and how well they work together to reduce friction resentment.

Unit and rank breakdowns

The following numbers and organizational breakdown are not meant to be historically accurate to any one particular time period. The numbers ARE accurate, and were drawn for the most part from US Army designations circa 1945. Where certain ranks and units were modified during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, I have picked those changes and forms that seemed to work best in simplifying the general breakdown to promote clarity, and to aid the GM in making their own choices for use in a science fiction or fantasy setting.

Where possible, I used US Marine Corps ranks, because I happen to be prejudiced in that direction. Have no fear in using this list, however, because if you describe a company as being composed of around 150 men of fighting spirit, led by a Captain and with an able Lieutenant as his Executive Officer, you will be very nearly dead-on in describing most US forces of our last century.

This breakdown does not take into account Naval ranks. That is a topic for a more science-fiction/space opera based storyline.

Army Organization

# Warriors Title Led by Executive Staff
10,800 Division CO: Major General  5 Officer Planning Staff (not in COC)
5,400 2 Brigades per CO: Brigadier General 5 Officer Planning Staff (not in COC)
1,800 3 Regiments per CO: Colonel XO: Lieutenant Colonel
600 3 Battalions per CO: Lt Colonel or Major XO: Major or Captain
150 4 Companies per CO: Captain XO: Lieutenant
50 3 Platoons per CO: Lieutenant XO: Senior Sergeant
12/12/13/13 4 Squads per Squad Leader: Sergeant Asst Squad Leader: Corporal
6 or 7 2 Strike Teams per Fire Team Leader: Corporal or Lance Corporal  

 Total number of men in One Division; Officers and Warriors

1 Division: 1 Major General, 5 Staff Officers.
2 Brigades: 2 Brigadier Generals, 10 Staff Officers.
6 Regiments: 6 Colonels, 6 Lt Colonels.
18 Battalions: 18 Lt Colonels or Majors, 18 Majors or Captains.
72 Companies: 72 Captains, 72 Lieutenants.
216 Platoons: 216 Lieutenants, 216 Senior Sergeants.
864 Squads: 864 Sergeants, 864 Corporals
1728 Strike Teams: 1728 Corporals or Lance Corporals.

 10,800 Warriors led by 642 Officers

11,442 men in total

That total does not include Support Detachments, which can have wildly varying sizes. Many officers wear multiple ‘hats’, or take on the duties of leading support sections in addition to the normal duties of leading their unit, especially in smaller units.

Support Detachments

Supply (food storage and cooks, uniforms, armor and weapons, miscellaneous gear)

Intelligence (Spies, paid informants, Forward Scouts and Pathfinders, Cartographers)

Medical (Doctors and Battle Surgeons, Nurses, full medical supplies and herb gatherers)

Maintenance (Armorers, Weaponsmiths, Blacksmiths, full mobile smithies, Bowyer/Fletchers)

Communications (Signal/Banner Corps, Pigeon Corps, Runners and Horn Carriers)

It should also be noted that the Military Band of a Unit or Battle Group comes from the Warrior Corps. They carry small instruments in their field packs such as pipes, flutes and small drums, and play during the march or formal functions. They do not get special consideration for this extra duty, except the appreciation of their peers.

Military Rank Structures

Generalized Officer Grades

 General – Highest ranking officer in the military force. Senior Staff Officer.

 Lieutenant General – Staff Officer, with experience in multiple types of engagements.

Major General – Can be a Staff or Field Officer, usually too senior to be allowed to lead men, when his experience can be better used in developing overall strategy rather than implementing tactics in the field.

Brigadier General – Field officer, responsible for a Brigade in the field.

Colonel – Regimental Commander, or member of a General’s Planning Staff.

Lieutenant Colonel – Battalion Commander or Executive Officer for a Regiment.

Major – May be either a Battalion Commander or Battalion Executive Officer.

Captain – The wild horse, can be employed as a Company Commander, or ‘detached’ as the Commanding Officer of any number of ‘special assignments’. The first officer rank where true leadership has been demonstrated and experience has been earned to get this far.

Lieutenant (or 1st Lieutenant) – Platoon Leader or Company Executive Officer, given responsibility for the men in his command, but expected to rely on the proven experience of his Enlisted Executive Officer, a Sergeant Major or Senior Sergeant, to show him how to get the job done.

2nd Lieutenant – honorary grade of an Officer in Training. Lower than pond scum.

Generalized Knighthood Officer Grades

Knight-General – rank of the Commander in Chief of an Order of Knighthood.

Knight-Commander – senior field Commanders of an Orders’ forces.

Knight-Captain – highest rank an independent Knight can attain without declaring oath to a liege.

Knight-Lieutenant – rank achieved after the Knight has completed a Holy Quest.

Knight – the rank of every Knight, no matter how skilled, who has not as yet taken a Quest.

Enlisted Grades

Sergeant-Major – Highest ranking enlisted soldier in any Military Force. Not part of a General’s Planning Staff or an Executive Officer of any unit larger than a Company, but still present in the leadership of every single Battalion, Brigade, Regiment and Division as the senior most enlisted leader, normally responsible for planning the actual nuts and bolts operations of the enlisted men in his unit. It has been said that the role of a Commanding Officer is to decide what needs to be done; it is the role of the Sergeant Major to make it happen… somehow.

Master Sergeant (Top) – Senior field soldier in charge of cavalry or infantry forces.

Bowyer Sergeant (Strings) – Senior field soldier in charge of archer forces.

Gunnery Sergeant (Gunny) – Senior field soldier in charge of heavy artillery (catapults, ballista).

(the three above ranks are counted equal in hierarchy, but in different military specialties)

Senior Sergeant (or Staff Sergeant) – First enlisted rank where the management and coordination of the men under his command is his primary responsibility, and actually kicking them in the ass and showing them how to get things done takes a back seat. Often forced to delegate the hands-on leadership of sections of his men to the Sergeants.

Sergeant – The old man of the service. Traditionally, once a man becomes a Sergeant, through years of experience and accomplishing his assigned missions, he can expect to remain a Sergeant for at least eight to ten years before rising to the next rank. In times of combat, that changes drastically, but during peacetime, it is extremely common for most men to end a tour of service of 8 to 12 years as a Sergeant. It is the Sergeant who is primarily responsible for training his men, personally leading them, and acting as surrogate father figure to them. Even though he may be only 24 or so, to the 18 and 19 year olds in his unit, he is old as Methuselah, and his word is the word of the lord, because if you ignore it, the wrath of god falls on your poor head.

Corporal – First enlisted rank where the responsibility to lead other men, namely Privates and Lance Corporals, is delegated. It is where possible future Sergeants get their initial training, and gives the Sergeants and Lieutenants a chance to evaluate the leadership potential of a man without handing him a Squad of 13 men to get killed..

Lance Corporal – Experienced enlisted soldier.

Private First Class – Rank given mostly to reassure the soldier that he really isn’t a fresh-scrubbed raw recruit anymore.

Private – A fresh scrubbed raw recruit, either in initial training (Boot camp, Initial Combat Training), or just past it. In the 1940s, a Recruit in Boot Camp was technically already a Private, and was called a Private. Among other things. In modern times, he is listed as a recruit, and does not become a Private until graduating from Boot Camp. And he is still called other things.

When looking at these ranks, don’t see it as “I must use such and such in my forces”, but instead think of it in terms of “which roles will be needed depending on the size and purpose of my force, and what rank names or titles shall I use to describe them?” This is your opportunity to determine your own rank names, and to eliminate entire ranges of ranks and force sizes depending on how small your forces may be in comparison.

Differences between officers, knights and enlisted men

When discussing Officers and Enlisted, there are many different ways they can be differentiated. I’m not even going to try to provide a definitive breakdown of them all, but I will give you some examples.

First, it is common that in most militaries, the lowest ranking Officer is of higher position in the chain of authority than the highest ranking Enlisted Person. There is a certain amount of professional respect and courtesy due between ranks, especially in the relationship within a unit of the new Lieutenant and the experienced Sergeant Major, but when it comes to who is required to obey the orders of another under military law, a direct lawful order of an officer has higher precedence than that of an enlisted man. The chain of command is stringently observed, and it’s importance cannot be understated.

In some armed forces, the officers obtain their warrants directly from patrons as signs of favor, as if gifts, opportunities for that officer to gain prestige and reknown through the success of their units. In those cases, it may be common that the vast bulk of the actual work may be done by the enlisted, with token appearances and guidance from the officer in question.

In many medieval armed forces, the officers came from the nobility, and part of the duty of their noble rank was the raising and leading of units composed of locals, peasants, farmers, and indentured servants from their lands. In those cases, the rank of the officer frequently derived either from their societal rank, or from the size of the force they could muster. You can see different levels of this, as well. Many settings show the peasants as being little more than property, and not permitted to touch arms or to be trained in their use. In those settings, only the officers themselves and their personal men at arms compose the force the officer brings to a battle. As the situation changes, and the noble can draw on more members of their personal lands, as armed and trained soldiers, so too does personal liberty tend to grow among those people. 

Let’s move past the historical generalizations and examples, and describe a very simplified origin of enlistment for a fantasy campaign setting, based on a society of mostly free citizens but with a distinct upper class or aristocracy.           

The enlisted warrior joins the military straight from his (or her) former life, passes physical and mental testing, and becomes a recruit (or Private). He is trained in whatever standard branch of service his superiors chose for him or her, and progresses up the ladder of rank as his experience, skill, strength of character and leadership become recognized. The enlisted warrior can progress to the highest ranks of the enlisted structure, but unless personally knighted or singled out for recognition, they will never advance to the officer ranks.

The officer is of noble or wealthy birth, and usually has an excellent education. He has had access to personalized tutoring in theory and history, as well as advanced (and expensive) personal training while growing up. Traditionally, he is sponsored to a specific Military Organization or Branch of Service by his parents, who pay for the cost of his outfitting and continuing education. The forces he leads may consist of ‘household troops’ raised from the lands his family controls, he may bring with him to a larger unit a small force of personnel from his homeland as men-at-arms, or he may travel alone or possibly with a squire or servant.

There is a common plot in fantasy literature for a free man without aristocratic ties or bloodlines to become an officer, and that is by pursuing the path of knighthood. Most knights are in fact members of the nobility that are included in religious orders, but in a fantasy setting a religious order can act independently from the nobility, and choose for themselves who does or does not qualify to be raised as a knight based on individual merit and worthiness in the eyes of their deity. This is especially likely for a religious order with a militant arm, when skill and talent in the service of their god matter more than technicalities of birth.

In a fantasy campaign, using feudal styles of nobility, it is usually impossible for anyone not of the nobility, or a certain wealthy class of merchant, to become an officer or Knight. In fact, it was a source of great class conflict that only those born to the nobility were given certain privileges, including that of training in the Knightly Arts. So in a very strict campaign, either the common man has no legal means to own arms or armor or be trained in their use at ALL, or in more lenient campaigns to become an Officer or a Knight. In those situations, it may be that the GM will decide it is possible for a member of a Religious Order to legally become a Knight and recognised as such by the landed nobility.

It’s up to the GM to decide how the politics within the game world affects the possibilities for advancement. It is usually only when a society is faced with great change or dire threat that the prescriptions against armed civilians are relaxed enough to allow the common man to mobilize and train in military skills.

In some political or campaign settings, especially those with the possibility of direct divine intervention, the Knighthood may exist not as a coordinated military unit or as an appendage to the nobility, but instead may be possessed of it’s own mystique and authority seperate and even above that of local rulers, answerable to higher centralized authority but guided by their own spirit. You can use that kind of situation to allow your Knights to assume the roles of traveling Sheriffs, similar in concept to the old Texas Rangers, covering a wide range of territory, possessing certain legal powers and acting as local judge, jury, and perhaps executioner, depending on what the source of their authority derives. As a sterling example, the Clint Eastwood movie ‘Hang Em High’ demonstrates what a Knight that has powers to apprehend, but not to convict or execute sentence, may have to endure to see justice done.

The changes in a military force, and the pressure of needing to raise more than a handful of knights can be a plot hook for change in your campaign world all by itself. Many ‘popular uprisings’ or ‘peoples revolutions’ begin when a government feels firced into training and arming a peasant population. A conflict between nations forces a repressive government to mobilize and train the peasantry to serve as soldiers in the nations’ defense, and then once the war is over, the peasants don’t just ‘forget’ that the nobles get decapitated and bleed just like the normal folks do. Plus, the peasants have a lot of tools to work the farms and fields, and most of those tools have very sharp edges.

Building on GM Fundamentals I – Plot Structure

The first in a (probably very) short series of suggestions for a GM planning a tabletop or PBeM RPG game. Oooh, acronyms!

When planning a new RPG campaign, you should start with having a goal for the game. What are you hoping to achieve?

In most games, the goal is to have a lot of fun playing characters while taking part in a good story.

There are two parts to consider here; players enjoying playing their characters, and players experiencing a good story.

To accomplish both of these goals generally means a single storyline campaign will last several game sessions, covering weeks and maybe even years.  

Your mission as GM? Prepare a story that will provide your players with short term enjoyment of playing their character each session, medium range enjoyment by giving them opportunities to advance or improve their characters over time, and long term enjoyment by giving the players a feeling that they have taken part in a rich saga with a fulfilling conclusion.

Sound impossible? Not really.

When you plan your plotlines, think in terms of a triple layer of overlapping plotlines.

  • A) Short Term Plot.
  • B) Character Growth.
  • C) Multi-Episode Story Arc.

Short Term Plot

Each game session should be considered a single encounter. For the players? No, for you! You have your own mission for every game session; that the players be presented with a challenge, work to overcome it, and then enjoy the results so they have a sense of accomplishment prior to tossing the empty pizza boxes in the trash and going home. 

The short term plot is nothing less than your plan for the very next game session. You should think of it in terms of having a start, middle, and ending. It takes place within the overall story arc, and drives the overall story forward, but is in all respects a mini-adventure.

The short term plot can be so many things, and often will be driven by the players themselves as they take the initiative to play their characters. Your purpose in this is to keep in mind that it is rewarding to have a sense of completion at the end of each game session. If the party has to travel over long distances, plan on having each game session start with traveling to set the scene, take them over a portion of the journey rapidly, and then engage them with whatever encounter you have planned, and deal with the conclusion before the end of your session. If at the end they are still traveling on, they will still feel a sense of accomplishment at having completed the mini-adventure.

Likewise on searching a city for information, or chasing a villain, or shopping for items in the bazaar. Plan for something short, brutal, surprising or urgent to happen that can be resolved in one session.

The purpose of the short term plot is to provide an obvious short term goal for the characters to achieve, and the characters should be able to defeat the villain/solve the problem using pre-existing capabilities.

Character Growth

In the Character Growth portion of your plot, plan in advance on building in specific minor challenges targeted directly at each character. Your players are actors in an ensemble cast, but every player wants to feel like a true star in the spotlight now and then.

Start by having your players write some backgrounds for their characters, and encourage them to put down a little soul searching as to the hopes and dreams, and fears, of their characters. You won’t want to plan to fulfill their every hope in the way they would expect, but you CAN use it as a starting point for finding ways to really give them opportunities to grow their own way. 

During the course of the game, take the time to let each player feel that there was a special moment where the success or failure of the group rests on them. Put the burden on them, let them feel that pressure, and give them a chance to either succeed or fail on their own. Either way, it usually results in that player feeling a deep sense of inclusion in the group.

For you, the purpose of the Character Growth plots are to encourage each character to develop a unique personality. They should not regularly be life threatening, or always play a major role in the Short Term Plot, but they can lead to bonus abilities, new contacts, or special knowledge if properly handled. If the player fails, it can often lead to new short term plot hooks for you!

Some examples of character growth planning are to provide times when special skills are needed to advance, and opportunities to learn new skills are offered… for a price. One character may dream of being presented to the royal court, and will pursue that goal if given half a chance, while another might wish for nothing better than to study under the greatest swordsmaster of the age. You have to tailor each character growth opprotunity to the character, but it is incredibly fulfilling when a player’s character becomes such a core part of the story.

Multi-Episode Story Arc

The final portion of the triple plot is the Multi-Episode Story Arc, also known as the big quest. What is the huge adventure everyone is on? What is the big goal?

This is usually the easiest part of the process. Most GMs have some idea of what they want to do for a big, awesome campaign story, in general terms. What you want to do is break that huge story up into episodes, in segments, the venerable bite-size pieces.

It can help if you think of your campaign as if it were a TV series, not one of those cheesy ones, but something brilliant like J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5.

Each night’s episode should be enjoyable all on it’s own in repeats, taken out of the story and made to stand cold and lonely under the spotlights of harsh examination. But if you put the whole thing together, there is a larger story that continues to grow, and gather meaning. Something your players move towards. Or away from. Or around in circles. Or blow up. Or join and become evil overlords and worry about changes to their tax base.

Best yet, along the way, each character has an opportunity to grow, and develop a richer, more interesting personality.

However you like to run your own campaigns, I hope that this has given you a few ideas to think about in planning ahead and making your own life just a little bit easier. And if you’ve already developed this technique on your own as an art form and never saw some git put it into words before, well then, I’ve done my bit to show that you can set rules to anything.

Stay tuned for my next exciting episode, where I explore the joys of recurring NPCs… the good, the bad, and the just plain annoying.

Can you spot the Inconspicuous Bear?

This is one of the things I really look forward to the most, as a blogger.

I’d like to welcome to the blogging fold Reesi, the author of a great new Bear Druid blog, The Inconspicuous Bear.

Reesi may be new to blogging, but she has outstanding credentials as a Bear Tank expert, having played as a progressive raiding Bear Tank for most of Burning Crusade and all of Wrath.

Moreover, Reesi has a Bear Tanking in 4.0.1 guide on her blog, showing that even in the earliest days of writing for her blog she’s got it going on.

So please, go check it out, go check her out (that didn’t sound right, did it) and give her a very enthusiastic welcome from the BBB community. You folks have shown me a lot of love, much of it undeserved, over the years. I hope that in Reesi and The Inconspicuous Bear, you’ll find another excellent writer that you’ll enjoy reading in the months (and years?) to come.

Welcome, Reesi. Best of wishes to you, and good fortune!