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Quality in Rifts: Remembering Pete Overton

Quality In Rifts: A Discussion of Ranks

By Pete Overton

As I noted before, the chain of command is enforced quite rigidly when it comes to the Coalition. They realize that it only takes one man to break for the whole group to fall, so they ensure that each person knows their place.

In game terms, this makes for a boring game if characters have to be totally subservient to one character all the time. While any orders technically have to be followed, the game allows for mechanics upon your return to lodge formal complaints or disagreements with your officer. It is recommended that you first try to work out these problems with the officer in question, but should that fail, then you would go lodge a complaint. If it should be shown that the officer was in error, then he may be punished or even demoted.

So yes, rank must be considered when giving orders, but amongst your own squad, it is generally considered poor form to pull rank. In general, you are all specialized enough to have your own areas of specialty and can act upon it as such, and no one should NEED to tell you what to do. Again, yes, I know I keep harping on this, but if you have not yet done so, go watch Aliens sometime before the game starts and watch the squad dynamics at work. It's a good movie anyways. :) They work as a unit and like I said in my terribly put together essay on teamwork on the webpage, if you don't work together, you will die together. It's usually as easy as that.

So use some common sense, but on the other hand, don't be afraid to use your rank if you feel you are justified, but realize that, ESPECIALLY in my games, every action has a consequence!

On Rank: I will assign you all ranks based on your character backgrounds and on my strict hierarchical experience with the Coalition Military. ;) People have been rather concerned about this, so I will address it briefly; YES, technically speaking you have to follow the orders of a superior officer, it is quite ingrained in Coalition troops that the chain of command is sacrosanct. The higher up the rank scale you go, the more broad these orders become, however, as lower ranks then pass the buck with a little more specificity on to troops. For instance:

General: Secure the Magic Zone.
Colonel: Secure the Magic Zone with two divisions of infantry.
Captain: Secure the North sector of the Magic Zone.
Lieutenant: Secure Sector Bravo and fortify.
Sergeant: Secure that town.
Corporal: Secure that building.
Private: Yes sir.

At least, that's how I interpret it. ;) As for players making orders, well, that's always a tricky one, but I trust that you all are able to handle yourselves. While this IS the military, the military also has unique ways of handling officers who overstep themselves too often. :) Also keep in mind that while everyone is assigned a rank in the military, there are occasions where someone exists outside the chain of command for whatever reason (the RCSG Scientist for example has no official military rank and is along as a civvie).

In short, unlike the movies where the most evil people rise to the top, if someone has a rank in my Rifts Earth, they've probably done something to DESERVE that rank and probably should be listened to. Increases in rank will not come de facto with experience (well, they will, but really spaced out) but from actions in the field and handling of orders from superiors.

Chris Whitcomb, a former Navy guy, added the following to my little rant on ranks:

Also I'd like it if you could add a little to the page on Ranks. One thing I've noticed with people who have never served is that the automatically assume that someone with a higher rank has complete authority over a lower rank. This is most often the case but there are numerous situations were specific duties give authority over superior ranks. For instance, a ship's doctor has authority over the ship's Captain, where his health and well-being are concerned. An MP assigned to guard duty has authority over all who wish to enter his assigned station. If the General wants in, he has to show ID.....even to the lowly Sergeant MP. And one doesn't necessarily have to be a certain rank in order to hold a particular position, like the Captain of a ship can be a Captain, Commander, or even a LT in the case of certain small craft.

A good point indeed, thank you Chris. :) More cannon fodder for the neverending "who has authority over who" PC battles. ::smile::

Shawn Clark, an ROTC guy who has lots of experience from being a military-brat, had the following to add:

First I will congratulate you on a very nice page, kudos to you! Second, a bit on the rank thing. I noticed you said that it is considered poor form to pull rank in a small squad. I am in the ROTC at my college, I am a military brat and my brother was in the Army. Three friends were in the military. Point is, I agree with you but at the same time disagree. I mean that the squad leader is there to keep squad cohesiveness. The military is structured so as to keep order and discipline. Even in situations where there is a small group involved, there must be a defined command structure. The leader does not necessarily tell everyone WHAT to do so much as tell them WHEN to do it.

Everyone in the military is trained to follow the leader, he is the guide. The must trust in his judgment to get them out of a situation. Likewise the leader must gain the trust of the group by making sound decisions and showing comptence in the art of war and science of leadership. The leader is responsible for many things, but sometimes he may not be able to get all those things done by himself. This is where certain aspects of leadership come into play, like delegation. The leader must know where everyone is, at all times. That means in a small group, during an ambush for example, he places EVERYONE so that he knows their EXACT position, and the soldier must not deviate from this postion unless ordered to or he lets someone know where he is.

The leader also is there to make decisions in battle that the other soldiers aren't there to make. They are busy doing their job, that is, firing their weapon at the enemy. The leader is doing his job, he is directing the battle. Communication is essential. Knowledge of your troops and their capabilities is essential. I once heard that if a lieutenant in a platoon size group ever fires his weapon, he has failed his job to lead the battle. The leader is too important to risk in the line of fire.

However, certain paradoxes do exist. Like, the leader is too valuable to risk in battle, however, he must go on the recon of an objective so that he knows, first hand, the detail of an objective the group is about to attack. I guess what I am getting at in my rambling is that a leader is much more than someone who barks out orders to fellow privates about when or when not to piss. A leader is someone the group trusts with their life and are willing to place that trust solely in the hands of that one person.

Well, Shawn, you go dude. :) I mailed him a response which I will post here too:

Yeah. This is true. Unfortunately the nature of the game demands that some fudging happens. Optimally the squad would act cohesively and balance being ordered about with initiative, but RPG players as a rule usually aren't overly militaristic. Heck, *I'm* not overly militaristic although I am learning for the sake of my games (mostly for Rifts and Heavy Gear).

See, when I wrote that I wrote it more from the perspective of futuristic, small-unit squad actions. Rifts empowers a ten-man squad with wicked amounts of firepower indeed, even after we've balanced them out. ;) Squads in Rifts I see are MUCH more autonomous, especially when you consider that the satellite system is essentially off limits to Earthbound militaries, which is a HUGE disadvantage communications-wise. In this atmosphere, I would speculate that the devolution of command power would drop down the chain much more but at the same time individual enlisted troops would be slightly more autonomous than standard troops, which is to say that they are more aggressive in the application of their specialty (be it engineering, riflery, or whatever).

What this terribly long-winded thing is saying is that the squad becomes a more focal point as opposed to a division (for instance) in the old days due to extreme technologization of the typical grunt, much less the officer. So in that shifting of focality, that's where the idea of a rather "loose" squad came about. Each man generally knows his place and his specialty, and so the pulling of raw rank generally antagonizes a secure situation. :) Of course, sometimes it is necessary and that's the nature of the military. I guess it's more a sort of "the ends justify the means" thing and the Coalition does not complain too much about style as long as the substance is there and the mission objectives are reached. :)

Of course, if you act stupid, you get treated stupid, and the Coalition just LOVES stupid people with MD guns... ::smile::

John Stevens of the fabulous CS Navy game added the further:

I am anything but overly militaristic with 7 years as an Air Cadet being my own military exposure. However, whenever dicussing ranks and leadership turn up I always remember the words of General Patton, considered one of the great military leaders. "Don't tell your people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity." Now Patton was in charge of a large force which means he could afford to give open ended orders to capable officers. In the futuristic setting of Rifts Earth, I think for role-playability and interesting storylines (yes these are still the most important parts of an RPG) that the "Patton Approach" to leadership would apply most appropriately, especially in a small squad of individual player characters. So basically what it boils down to is game mechanics, so when Jimmy gives Nick and order, Nick has some freedom to what his character thinks is best. That way Nick doesn't start throwing dice at Jimmy and go home. That's just how I see it of course.

This is a good point and best represents the role of a leader I think. However, a counterpoint to consider is that like I stated above, the orders start very broadly and move down into more specific commands, which means the further down the line you go the more initiative you begin to lose. This is not to say that a Private has no leeway; indeed, they can get creative at their leisure, but within a very specific field. That is one of the primary reasons why politics at higher ranks becomes such an issue, because there are a multitude of officers trying to most creatively secure objectives issued from CS Command.

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