Wednesday, 25 May 2011

By Your Command: Wot No Command Figures?

In the future combat scenario, the traditional leader as we know it is likely to change. The far battlefield may see a diminishing role for the "Do you want to live forever?" style of leadership, replaced instead by orders beamed on the CrossComm/Grid via satellite or direct from a HoloCommand Centre somewhere in orbit.

Likewise direct tactical orders such as "We gotta take that compound" will be replaced by constantly updating markers and symbols on a trooper's helmet display.

You may think that men in whatever guise, in the tension of a firefight will always look for a leader - maybe, but what about cloned or 'chipped' warriors of the future planets? Will they be 'programmed' for each fight?

James Cameron's ALIENS gave us a thought provoking study of the dilemma of future command. Not only did we have the larger than life Sand of Iwo Jima character in Apone, it also introduced us to Gorman, a platoon leader of the electronic age who lead from the...err, van.

Despite the pivotal role on the modern battlefield and in many wargame rules, dedicated leader figures can be hard to come by in 15mm Sci Fi. I'm still find myself painting a stripe or different coloured helmet/shoulder pad on grunts to denote them as leaders. OK that's fine for the squads but what about the platoon leader?

Well, where there's no separate platoon commander figure that's 'different' to the squad leaders, you are essentially being handed the role of Gorman. Sitting in your armoured VW camper, watching the screens and keeping an eye on Bid TV all at the same time. That's right, "38, simulated". Next time you look at those figures, before you press "Buy" just remember "38, simulated".

Still, you want those minis, you must have those minis. You've expressed "Wow" and "Awesome" on every forum going. The shiny, the precious MUST BE YOURS........

OK, we can paint a bigger stripe, give our heroic leader a bigger shoulder pad, but let's think 'outside the pack' in order to turn that fireteam plus the rest of a bag of Ebay fodder into a worthwhile platoon with a recognisable and identifiable command structure.

As our main focus is Sci Fi, I'm going to turn to HALO here. Fans of the original HALO game will remember that Masterchief is guided, aided and ultimately contested by the A.I. 343 Guilty Spark, also known as the "Oracle". Now imagine that Guilty Spark was a Command Drone. That's right. We looked at the potential for drones, bots and UAVs replacing men carrying support weapons in my earlier post about SAWs, why can't we therefore put Gorman in a drone.

 Khurasan 15mm Sci Fi Control Battalion
Sure nice drone you got there boy!

Within a drone he has greater mobility on the battlefield, can exert his command presence and provide timely and encouraging firepower support to the grunts on the ground. Guilty Spark was able to zap the flood with lasers, so there's no reason why we can't give our Gorman drone a limited support and self protection ability. Even give each squad its' own Apone drone! So the Command Drone is shot down? No worries, the command data and comms passes to another drone in the unit or a replacement Command Drone whizzes it's way up to the battlefront.

My next reference is also from HALO, this time Cortana. Oooh, the beautiful, sultry, Cortana. Well, we'll get to Cortana. Artificial Intelligence plays a key role within the HALO 'verse and the fiction is worth reading to take a step into the future and see a wonderful visualisation of A.I. in use. Halo: Contact Harvest by Joseph Staten introduces us to the A.I. character Mack. And believe me, he is all character. Mack's avatar, his holographic presence is a Mexican bandito.

So your command or A.I,. function can be expressed as an iridescent blue, green, red character avatar - a 10-15mm figure, 20mm even, maybe a typical command figure, but also maybe a cowboy, a pirate, a Patton, a hero of the Federation.

Maybe, just maybe, these 'command avatars' will also be used for morale, accompanying the men into action - maybe individual avatars for each soldier, maybe a mascot avatar for squad or platoon - again being in the key places, directing, exhorting, cajoling  or comforting as the situation warrants.

And this is where Cortana comes in. Maybe the day of humans commanding humans is past and AI Avatars take on the job on behalf of the master battle computer....

Cortana is their leader, their commissar, their confident, their reason.... This is a great role for some of Critical Mass Games' Vadorian Assassins.

And finally in this brief look at alternative 15mm Sci Fi command figures, we turn to Star Wars. In the later episodes we see Clone commanders appearing as light blue holographic images in front of other commanders. So, let's take an ordinary kneeling trooper figure - give him that stripey thing to denote him as leader and place a 6mm HOF command or grunt figure at his feet - again panted as a holographic image so it appears that he's communicating with higher command or one of his troopers.

HOF 6mm Command Sprue

Hope you enjoyed this quick look at how we can turn necessity into opportunity to leave behind the mental shackles of the Grav Panzer, plasma AK and BFG, to instead really push the envelope of Sci Fi in miniature.



  1. What about ECM? The first time there is wide spread jamming or worse hacking of remote command systems leaders will probably start leading their commands in person.

    That would make for a cool game, complete loss of uplink to command and the micro managed players all attempting to sort it out.

  2. It's a bit like saying what if your officer is shot, what then?

    Without a doubt ECM, ion storms, EMP weapons all will have an effect on electronic command and control by whatever means it's conducted.

    I see it as an extra dimension added to the future battlefield and of course, incorporated into your rules. In Tomorrow's War I think Shawn did a good job on interpreting some of my early ideas into a playable mechanic without it becomning a mini game in itself.

    LOL! Now, you've either made an argument for manufacturers to provide us with the appropriate command figures for a low tech fight in high tech combat gear, OR provide ECM techs/drones.


  3. I think you're partially off target, leadership is more than telling a group people where to go and what to do. It's one thing to tell troops to expose themselves to deadly fire to capture an objective, it's quite another to get them to do the same. I can't imagine a soldier no matter how comfortable they are with technology having the same kind of dedication to a trumped up computer as they would to a flesh and blood PL or NCO who is there in the thick of it with them. Also, situations on the battlefield are extremely fluid. A leader needs to be on the ground to make decisions in the absence of orders.

    Now, all that said I think there will be a flattening of the chain of command to decrease the decision cycle time. Expert systems will be able to provide the information and tools to help the leaders, but not be the leaders.

  4. Heya

    Hmm where to start, where to start...

    Basic human fear of becoming obsolete... Ref. Hal,Syntha,Silicates,Cyons etc etc.

    EMP,ECM, distortion, natural heavy magnetics, high voltage... warriors of the future have tasers and magnets on sticks??

    Respect for a commander who has no body and can't be hurt... even if they get a hard light drive...we all remember Rimmer!

    Anti sniper tactics... shoot the pirate,drone, the one that flashes and beeps first.

    Even if officer Bob sits safe in his arm chair watching bargain hunter re-runs there will be an NCO enforcing his will at the other end of the comms. NCO will become the new officers... hmm nothing new there then :)

    Take a look at the command packs by admittedly it's 28mm but they have data slates, utility droids and the understated poity finger of authority that all officers shouldn't leave base without.

    Or at infinity with there hacker holographic acetate displays... take that principle and attach it to a droid r2d2, or better yet a space saving wrist pad on a combat grunt... no need for droids, ai avatars or other overly expensive equipment... at that price one can afford to equip the whole squad and send another in to boot and still undercut the budget for a tidy bonus :)

    Although the appeal of having a sultry vixen in all her otherworldy glory on the table top may have merit enough to overlook the doubts that spring to mind.

    Keep the thoughts churning and the posts coming :)

  5. Hi Sgt Crunch.

    I take your point and welcome it. This isnt a discourse on leadership on the future battlefield but more WTF we can do to overcome not having enough decent command figures in any given range of figures and what Sci Fi(ium) alternatives we can employ.

    However, what is to say that future humans or clone warriors are not brought up with greater AI - that imaginary friend as a child not being so imagiunary anymore. Especially in societies where test tube births or fractured society means children grow up without traditional parenting. What's to say they are not going to have a greater affinity to an online mother, father, leader, lover.

    There may be an off-planet society where grunts are not entrusted with leadership ability for fear of rebellion and to protect a small caste elite from death they use technology - command or commisar drones, holo-avatars etc to lead their soldiers into battle.


  6. Hi Qalpha

    LOL! That's ma boy! Run with the possibilities!

    Even just following what was the Future Warrior development programme - we can have communication systems hardwired into the soldiers jaw, battle displays on contact lenses or projected onto the back of the iris.

    Scientists have already turned human protein into a basic computer chipo - how long before living data chips are grafted into soldiers, engineering chips/law chips/Total Recall chips uploaded into you and me - not metal Jonny Mnenomic wires and circuit boards but living tissue.

    Soldier 552 is leader - he is shot, as he dies or lies incapacitated his data path is uploaded to soldier 417 who is now commander without a blink.... Remember the Cyber man attack on Torchwood in Dr Who. As Cyber Leader went down a new Cyber leader was uploaded.

    Commands dont even have to be by pointing fingers or shouting, simply just movements of an eye across a data screen.

    I love the Infinity hackers - some of their best figures.


  7. Heya

    At 28mm, painting a blinking eye to represent data flow will be interesting at 15mm even more so... for now i think i'll stick to the pointy finger even if it's a cybernetic replacement.

    Explaining to your opponent that the comms are internal, the insignia part of their dna and that morale checks are dependent upon the nanobots controlling the adrenal glands is all very well, right up until that critical dice roll in your favour!

    I think in the miniatures world we have to over emphasise, characturise and represent an idea in a way the opponent can tell by simply looking at the model whether it be an old fashioned hand set and antenna for comms or a £$%"£% big gun for support. I don't think many leutenants would be that happy if they had to wear a bright red helmet in the field to distinguish themselves form their camo'd companions... but on the games table it's a great help :)

    Thinking on another level, say its a bug based force hivemind mentality, the leader is the biggest or distinguished in some way but the field of effect isn't represented on table in a physical manner. In these circumstances the enemy targets the leader so as to bring about confusion in the rest of the army something that the rules encourage because of the concept behind the force. Would an armchair APC commander or ai overlord not also encourage such assination type ambitions when planning the tactics... it would make for a different type of game for sure.

    Happy thoughts :)

  8. I def would like to see the Control Battalions expanded a bit before I invest in that direction, but they could be very useful figures indeed.

  9. I like the Control Battalion. More on order. The drone in the command pack is a nice touch and provides jonny on the spot fire support. The tech can even be a Platoon commander co-ordinating his platoon, drones and remote fire support.

    Alternatively the tech becomes a squad leader of 2-3 seperate fire teams and the wavy hand figure becomes the the platoon commander.


  10. You may want to read this post in conjunction wit these previous posts:


  11. I like this post main picture! :)))

  12. To extrapolate on what Qalpha said: I could easily see something like Battletac (ref Shadowrun) on the tabletop.

    Wrist- or HUD-mount displays of the battlefield terrain, with key points, enemy fortifications and command markers, etc. all integrated in the image.

    The only trouble I see with electronic C³ and jamming is that, depending on the rules set ECM can tend to bog a game down quite a bit; especially if you're trying to disrupt every command phase your opponent gets!

  13. Exactly. You can keep it simple and declare an ECM environment that's passive, aggressive or neutral and accept a degraded performance as part of the scenario set up so as not to unbalance the game.

    Lets face it, if the ECM is THAT bad - one side will have lost the battle or war before the game has even commenced.


  14. " but more WTF we can do to overcome not having enough decent command figures in any given range of figures and what Sci Fi(ium) alternatives we can employ."-Mark

    1. Head swaps.

    2. Add some extra gear (i.e Katana across back.)

    3. Paint jobs (i.e The gold helmet ala WH40K.)

    4. Different kit (Lt Gorman had plain OD107 uniform and just a pistol) Perhaps a miniature with a shotgun, smg or carbine with appropiate head swap.

    I find in 15mm I can get away with mixing and matching most miniatures as long as they have a semi uniform paint job. Titan Marines is the exception to that rule!

  15. Any leader easily identified on the battlefield AS a leader will be sniped or sparkled first. Nowadays everyone from sprog to rupert wears the same thing on the battlefield . . .

  16. I am aware of that pureteenlard just giving a few options for the table top and when we are talking 15 mm it helps to be able to identify the leader from 3+ feet away.

  17. I agree with most of the sentiment here... even though we know the leaders "on the field" would probably have the same kit as the grunts, it is nice to have command poses. GZG and Critical Mass do this pretty well.

    Another option that I've seen (I think Ambush Alley recommends it?) is painting a different colored rim around the base of your command figures. Then you know quickly know which one is the boss and why his stats are different, even if it's the same mini as the five grunts in his team.


  18. So to summarise so far ;-)

    1) We don't need no command figures because they will just get their arses shot off by a sniper

    2) Electronics wont work in the future due to ECM.

    3) How troops fight and their motivations for fighting whether they are from societies/cultures on earth or worlds from across the universe over hundreds of years into the future will be fairly the same as on the streets of Baghdad or hills of Afghanistan.

    4) If you want a leader do a headswop - and that includes Crusties/Garn/bubble helmets etc

    5) Just paint a gold helmet - BANG! See 1) above.

    6) Add a sword, a big moustache and floppy hat.

    LOL! You know, those Infinity and Antenociti 28mm figures are looking more appealing every day :-)


  19. Mark, Awesome post as usual. I don't have much to add beyond what has been suggested and discussed. The one thing that comes to mind though, is to perhaps mark the bottom of the figure with the figure's rank. I make 6mm infantry squads for Battletech, and I have been known to mark the bottom of stands that contain the company commander or higher. However, for battle armor (like Elementals), I just mark ranks on the shoulders of the troops because it just looks cool.

  20. I kind of like the idea of colored bases, and I usually paint a rank designation of the shoulders of my 15mm infantry.

    The shoulder marking adds to the overall appearance of the figure, but you'll never be able to really see it at 3+ feet. Using a certain color on the base could help that.

  21. Mark,

    Good thread!
    However, I’m not sure I fully agree with the underlying premise. We must remember that:
    • War is a human activity and humans have changed little in the last 10,00) years and will probably change little in the next 10,000 years.
    • Humans basically don’t like getting killed and as our society gets more technical they are more casualty averse.
    • Getting humans to do things they don’t want to do requires considerable inspiration.
    • Human society is essentially hierarchical and not all humans are equally intelligent and many cannot readily understand the big picture.

    Given this leaders will always be needed to:
    • Role 1: Inspire soldiers to go into harms way and do things that they would naturally not want to do. The Apone role.
    • Role 2: Understand their part in the bigger picture, plan their part of the attack, communicate that plan and ensure it is carried out. The Gorman role.
    • Role 3: …and in a world where mercs are the norm leaders will increasingly need to evaluate the profit and loss involved with the operation. The Carter J. Burke role.

    Role 1 needs to be done on the front line. Role 2 can be done remotely only if the comms work and if not requires it is done close to the front line. Role 3 can be done remotely provided it can dictate the aim to Role 2.

    So IMHO you ain’t never going to remove Rico from being in the frontline with his roughnecks! So figure manufacturers had better model them.

    Of more interest is how those bugs or aliens express leadership; swarm, hive, shoal, hierarchical, tribe, collective mind…...or what?