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Faith and Steel: A Warrior's Manifesto

Do You Have What It Takes?

by Steve Bergeron
Jun 24,2002


Do You Have What It Takes?

Anyone can swing a sword.
Anyone can fire a gun.
Anyone can throw a punch.

Yeah Right.

Almost anyone can learn to fight in some respect or another, but it takes years of training and discipline to rise beyond the random flailing of fists that most people think of as fighting. Warriors from every culture in history spent countless hours perfecting their bodies, minds, and souls to become the deadly warriors that now grace the legends and myths of today.

Too often, the training background of the warrior character is neglected. He learned to fight "somewhere" from "someone," and it's left at that. Where a soldier learned to fight, and from whom should be one of his most important characteristics. The rider who learned to fight from Mongolian Horsemen, and the mercenary that served with the Swiss Pikemen may both be the same character class, with similar stats to boot, but they were trained in two entirely different disciplines, have different outlooks on the very nature of combat and have personal styles that are as different as night and day.

Why is this relevant to warrior characters? Simple: In order to know who we are, we have to define where we came from. Knowing the type of training that a character underwent before the first session can help the player determine how the PC will react to many of the initial encounters he will face. True, the attitudes and perceptions of the character may undergo a vast change during the course of a campaign, but training is just supposed to be the beginning not the ending.

So, what does it take to be a warrior? The all encompassing answer is a very weak "that depends." For example, a modern day combat infantryman can expect around a year of training depending of where he's from. This includes a 2-3 month "Boot Camp" phase to introduce him into military life, another 3-4 month combat phase where he learns the basics of functioning in a section (8 men, British model) or squad (10 men, US model), and then another 3-4 months working on a specialization such as machineguns, mortars, or other platoon or company level weapons. At the end of the training, the private can function effectively as a basic combat soldier, but he is still the least trained of all combat personnel. Despite that, it is important to remember that combat training is anything but easy. In fact, it would be fair to say that instructors work very hard at recreating a little piece of Hell for all of the recruits to suffer in, and they succeed at it regularly. After all, they had plenty of time to perfect the art over the last few millennia. In virtually any military in the world the training is designed to be tough, but not impossible. Failure rates for these soldiers is somewhere between 20% and 40% depending on the army doing the training.

In the other extreme, there are the special operations Soldiers of groups such as the British SAS, the American Seal and Delta units, and the Canadian JTF2. A special operations soldier already has years behind him in another field and has to pass an extensive physical and psychological examination as well as a selection course specifically designed to weed out undesirables. Despite hundreds of applicants, only handfuls make it through. Those that do pass undergo extensive training in their field of specialty. Whenever these soldiers aren't deployed they are training. Constant exercises and practices keep them razor sharp when for the real thing comes along.

In the middle are all of the people with specialty training. These are the pilots, the combat engineers, the medics, the communications personnel, and many more. They don't have the level of intensity of special operations soldiers in their training, but it still takes years to learn their trades. Many of these trades are highly technical, or require a university education. Some would be considered highly trained combat specialists, such as fighter pilots or combat engineers, while others are not really warriors at all, such as mechanics, or even cooks, but all of them are still vital to operation of a military. The one thing that everyone understands is that incoming bullets may very well make hasty introductions despite their rear echelon positions.

Historically, training times and techniques varied enormously. Classically, the Spartans had an entire culture devoted to war. With a slave population doing most of the other work, Spartan citizens learned the arts of combat from early childhood. A few centuries later, the army of Alexander the Great rolled over the Spartans and everyone else for that matter. His army was meticulously trained and perfected for years by his father, Philip, before it began its conquest of the known world. The Romans trained their legions in more of a trial by fire fashion that emerged due to the enormous amount of troops that they had to manage, but counted on the long period of service required by legionnaires to always ensure that experienced soldiers led the fresh troops. In the Medieval era, a knight began training as young as age 7 and could spend 7 to 10 years as a page and squire before getting his spurs, while a peasant soldier levied to fight rarely received any training at all. Many of the Asian martial disciplines began in early childhood and took a lifetime to master.

The only general rule to training is that the larger the organization, the less training each individual receives. A soldier serving in the 10 million member Chinese army of today can expect a lot less individual attention than the fencer in Renaissance France who is the only student of a great master. In a gaming context, this gives a rough idea of the character's training background. For instance, a specialized character, such as a duellist, or a martial artist, or a sniper, probably had training that was very personal, perhaps one on one most of the time. Conversely, the mercenary soldier, the barbarian horde warrior, and starship turret gunner, were probably raised in the unit, or clan, or enlisted and was trained as part of a troop or platoon.

Another option players should consider is academies that formally train students in the arts of war. This can be something as innocuous as the local gun club or Karate dojo, or as grand as the NATO combat flying school or a secluded temple in the middle of a wasteland. Historically, schools of swordsmanship were popular worldwide. Some were more successful than others, and they were often in direct and bloody competition. Modern day examples of such academies are the military colleges that countries use to train their officers. Now the competitions are more sporting and less bloody, but they are just as fierce.

When choosing one of these options, it is important to consider the values of the institution and whether the character accepts them. Most military schools (and individual mentors for that matter) have a code of behaviour or a motto. For example, West Point cadets live by the code "Duty, Honor, Country," while we Canucks to the north at RMC have the slightly similar "Truth, Duty, Valour." All forms of training academies involve some sort of enforced discipline. Whether it is the code of Chivalry or Bushido, the important question to ask is "does the character believe in it, or has he discarded it?" The follow up question for either answer is "Why?" The next question is "What happened to the teacher(s)?" Does the mentor have a new student? Is the old academy still going strong? What if the old school or master had some unfinished business for the character? What if the unit that trained the character wants him back for just one more mission? Will it even matter to the character one way or another?

One of the more unusual possibilities is that the character wasn't trained at all. Fiction has its fair share of characters that gained their combat prowess through some means other than training. Perhaps the best example is super heroes. Spider-Man is just some kid who got bitten by the wrong spider, while Superman is solar powered, and the Fantastic Four are the result of an experiment gone bad. Other options include the divine intervention of God(s?) or pacts made with demons. Maybe the character downloaded his combat skills through a cybernetic port a la The Matrix. These options might significantly change the character's outlook. If the ability to fight was given as opposed to earned, then perhaps it could be taken away. Maybe the character now has more/less respect for those who spent a lifetime learning their skills. The bottom line is if the character didn't work for it, he should at least take the time to make it interesting.

Each option represents a different way to make a warrior character unique, and so much more than the "standard fighter" that we have all grown to know and loath. So, next time some one insults Thrag the Barbarian, he can boldly remind the fool that he is the greatest student of Gruk the Brave, slayer of a thousand trolls (maybe a few less than that, due to that pesky regeneration problem) whom he trained under for ten years and is the rightful heir to Gruk's great axe "Skullcrusher." (Which is missing, by the way. Gruk's bravery led to his demise, and, of course, it is Thrag's quest to retrieve it to honour his master. C'mon, every good barbarian has to have some kind of quest!) If that doesn't work, then he can revert to the time honoured collective ass kicking method and pound his meaning into the fool's head as Gruk had done to him for all of those long and glorious years.

Whatever background the warrior may have, it is still just the beginning of the adventure, but at least it's a cool beginning.

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What do you think?

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  • Downtime by Steve Bergeron, 26feb03
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