The Role of Military History

Cover of Military Heritage Magazine for June 2012, cover art by Don TroianiSomeday, I want to get paid for this. Not necessarily for writing Papers & Pencils itself, mind you. I somehow doubt I’ll ever have the readership required to make advertisements a profitable endeavor. But I’d like to make a living off of writing or game design, or some combination of the two. I like to think that putting myself out there with this website is the first step in that quest, even if it is the first step of many I’ll need to take. Another step I’m working on is educating myself. I’m trying to take an academic approach to learning about games and game design. I read and analyze anything which seems as though it will help me  traverse the long road towards a career I can be proud of.

I’ve noticed that many of the most renowned game designers – Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Steve Jackson – have been students of military history, and credited that knowledge with helping them in designing games. It seemed only prudent, then, that I should investigate this field of study to see what it had to offer. So while I was grocery shopping this past weekend, I picked up a copy of the June 2012 issue of “Military Heritage” magazine. It seemed like an inexpensive way to take my first glimpse at the subject, to see what I could see.

Most of the magazine deals with more contemporary wars, where firearms are used. Personally I’m much more intrigued in the medieval period, but there is a feature entitled “Fight in the Fog: Vercellae 101 BC,” which is more relevant to my interests. And the modern information is certainly not out of place. In many ways, a war fought with fantasy elements is more like a modern war than a medieval one. Wizards, elven archers, and dragons stand in for heavy artillery, machine guns, and aircraft.

One of the magazine’s regular features, “weapons,” is a fascinating piece on tanks. I won’t attempt to reproduce all of the information here, but the essential tale is about the first time tanks appeared on the battlefield, in World War I. When the British deployed them against the Germans, the Germans were understandably intimidated. The article covers the early German attempts to defeat this new technology, and gauges their success. Some tactics (such as strapping 7 grenades together) were quite dangerous to the soldier attempting to employ them, while others which seemed like a good idea (such as digging hidden pits for tanks to fall into) proved to be completely useless due to unforeseen elements. The article also covers many of the failings of early tanks which gave the Germans a fighting chance. For one, since tanks tended to draw a lot of fire, it was impossible for them to maintain an infantry escort. Another example given is that a foolish engineer once attached a supplemental fuel tank to the armored vehicle’s topside to give it increased range. What he didn’t anticipate is that this additional fuel was vulnerable to enemy fire, and a number of tank crews were incinerated due to that engineer’s poor judgement.

It was when I was reading this article that at least one use for this information crystallized for me. Here are real life examples of people trying new things in dangerous situations, and real life examples of other people trying to counter them. If my players engineered a tank, would my monsters counter with antitank mines, armor piercing bullets, or flooding the battlefield to mire the tanks? They probably should. When players come up with a crazy plan, the GM’s response to it should be just as clever. Because intelligent creatures will always find remarkably inventive methods of perseverance.

The “Fight in the Fog” feature has a lot of similarly relevant information. For example, it describes how  the Roman forces built a bridge across the Po River to provide support to their forward troops, and how their enemy ripped a bunch of trees down and floated them downriver to destroy the bridge. A little later, it describes how the Roman commander modified the design of his army’s spears by replacing an iron peg with a wooden one. This caused the spear to off in the enemy shields, causing the shields to become too unwieldy to use, and forcing the enemy to fight shield-less.

I have not yet read the entire magazine, but if the pieces I’ve read are any indication, this will prove to be not only a useful avenue of study, but a fascinating one as well. And it appears as though Military Heritage is associated with a magazine called Medieval Warfare which may be more my speed. I may well be subscribing to it soon!

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5 thoughts on “The Role of Military History”

  1. I might of missed it being mentioned or maybe it was skipped over. But I feel a lot of game designers need to actually learn swordsmanship, spear fighting, and armor training. It might make the systems a lot easier in the long run.

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