Ten War Options for the Non-Warlike Character, Part 2

Yesterday, we discussed ways a character who didn’t belong on the battlefield could still make a difference in a war situation, yet another RPG Blog Carnival post. Those were all ways of helping out with a standard army.

But there is rarely a war without an enemy, and at some point the enemy is going to come into play. What can a character who’d rather not fight large groups of people do to help out then?

Surveillance. That enemy army isn’t going to just sit out of there doing nothing; they’ll be moving, and gathering information, and securing their place, and maybe striking out against your army. Knowing what they’re doing is going to be important to your own organization, and if you’ve got sharp eyes and are good at staying undetected, you might be good for a job like this. But scouting isn’t necessarily just seeing the enemy and not being seen, useful though those skills are. A good scout should also make a point of learning enough about how the enemy works to be able to give a fair report, or at least make a point of remembering all the details to make sure that whoever is assigned to making sense of the scout’s observations won’t be missing crucial details.

Sabotage. Though they can function without all of their gear, armies are a lot more effective if their things are working. If they have guns, the guns need to be able to fire; if they have bows, they must also have arrows; if they have siege engines, they have to be able to move them; and of course, the soldiers need to be able to fight and react. Mess with this, and the enemy’s job gets a great deal tougher. There are three important skills involved in sabotage: Knowing what to mess with and how to mess with it, being able to do so while not being noticed, and messing with it subtly enough that they don’t realize it’s been done until you’re long gone and they need whatever it is you’ve messed up. (Being able to get out if you’re caught is also important, as sabotage is risky work.) It’s not a hero’s job, not by a long shot, but when done right, it’s devastatingly effective.

Foreknowledge: Not everything that people know about an enemy has to come from scouting them out. An understanding of the enemy’s structure, tactics, and tendencies, probably gleaned from prior research on their history or exposure to their culture, can be highly useful, particularly when the people in charge do not have such background. Even minor details can be useful.

Exploitation of detail: And this is why surveillance and foreknowledge are important; sometimes, those little details can lead to solutions all their own. Enemy’s cavalry makes a point of riding stallions? Mares on the battlefield might mess up their formation a bit. Lots of big rolling siege engines? Make sure there’s plenty of mud between them and anywhere they’d be effective. Happen to know the enemy’s greatest strength is demon-summoning? Get whoever is sent to gum up their works anyway to switch their ritual salt for sugar. It’s not military theory, just standard world-knowledge.

Communications: Unless you’re fighting a hive mind or a bunch of magically linked entities under the command of a small group, there’s probably a lot of communication going on within the subunits of the army. If you can figure out how to intercept and interpret it, you can predict their movements. And if you’re brave enough, you might even be able to take a step further, sending your own signals or otherwise misdirecting the enemy’s forces. One thing I’ve always wanted to do is make my way through the press of battle to whatever the means of communication is, commandeer it, and as they struggle with my allies issue the following commands:

Right flank, advance!

Right flank, retreat!

Right flank, advance!

Change formation!

About face and withdraw!

Even without knowing from tactics, I know it’s going to confuse the living daylights out of the enemy, and a confused enemy is a vulnerable enemy. That’s what it’s all about. (And if I could survive getting out of there, the story it would make…)

Even when the enemy is at hand, it isn’t just fighting that wins the war. Remember that, and use it to your advantage.

Leave a Reply