Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Veterans Day

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War. From Wikipedia

Veterans Day is approaching. Taking place in the United States on November 11th, it is a day to remember and honor all soldiers who have served in the military. While Memorial Day is meant to honor those who gave their lives in combat, Veterans Day is for all who have served.

Many countries throughout history have had standing armies. Recruiting and conscripting from the general population can boost your numbers but formal training can enable your armed forces to specialize in new technologies and abilities that can give your military an edge over your enemies. Most soldiers receive physical training and must spend time away from their families and friends for periods of time, honing the skills they will need to protect their fellow soldiers and the field and those back home. Every armed force has many roles to fill. Foot soldiers, drivers, engineers, snipers, porters, communications experts and more, not to forget those who organize the units and design maneuvers, ordering soldiers into place. All serve and all serve their purpose both in times of peace and war.

People join the military for many reasons. Some join for love of country. Some join because of family tradition. Some join because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. Some desire job security or a way to get training in a field they would like to switch to. Others have debt they can have forgiven or lessened if they serve. Others know they’ll be drafted or conscripted and given poorer treatment in the military if they don’t join of their own volition. Some just want to shoot people. And others know if they get through their obligation, they will be rewarded in the end. One of these, all these, a combination, none of these. From the lowly foot soldier hoping to be a general one day to the technician trying to keep their head down and get through this, they all have their reasons.

Most countries offer benefits for those who have served. In Ancient Rome, soldiers could receive land or money when their service was up. Spoils of war were available for those who came across it and were allowed to partake. Citizenship and all the legal benefits that entails, renown, awards and titles for exemplary service or even assurance of a peaceful afterlife have all been rewards soldiers could look forward to.

War affects both civilian and soldier. When military conflicts loom large in the history of your PCs, what are the results and how are they honored and remembered for the work they have done?

For GMs

  • Who joins the military? Are people obligated to join or are they allowed to volunteer? What kinds of people join the military? What percentage of the population is serving/has served?
  • What divisions exist within the military? What kind of camaraderie and competition exists between units?
  • How does the military support unit cohesion?
  • What are the benefits of being a soldier? Does the local government honor service? The local religion? Population?
  • What is the relationship between the military and civilian population? Are they one and the same? Are they distinct?
  • What is a veteran by the country’s standards? Anyone who has served in the military? Did the soldier have to see combat? Are only certain conflicts deserving of honor and recognition?
  • Are soldiers, past and present treated with respect?
  • What military holidays exist and how are they celebrated?

Plot Hooks

  • The country is honoring all surviving soldiers of a battle, holding a service on the battleground it was fought upon. All the PCs are veterans of the battle and are making the trip back for the observance. Who else is making the trip? What are they hoping to achieve by going?
  • On a day of remembering fallen soldiers, surviving members of the opposition show up to peacefully protest the remembrance. The PCs are there to maintain the peace and make sure the steadily angering populace doesn’t attack the protesters. How do the PCs feel about the protest? What exactly are the protesters against? Are the protesters from the region or did they travel to stand in opposition? How exactly are they voicing their opinions?
  • A local major religion wants to prove soldiers who recently fought in a conflict deserve help from the local government. The PCs must travel and interview the veterans of the conflict and amass their stories, to show their hardships and struggles for their country to the authorities. Why does the church want to do this? How many soldiers must the PCs interview? What is their affiliation with the church and why do they agree to do it? What are they hoping to have the government do?
  • The PCs are part of a small cultural group who helped the country in a recent military campaign, where their contribution helped turn the tide of a major battle. Now the way is over and the people are waiting for what was promised to them. When it doesn’t show up at the right time, the PCs are sent to the capitol to collect. What were the PCs and their people promised? How did they help in the campaign? What was the overall outcome for the war? What other types of promises were made and to whom? How do the PCs plan on being heard?
  • The PCs come across two travellers, one of whom is escorting the other to a temple for treatment. The individual was a soldier in a war and has been home for several months but it still exhibiting erratic, anxious behaviour, having trouble sleeping and lashing out at people. After making camp, the PCs are awoken in the middle of the night to screaming, seeing the person who is being taken in for treatment running off into the woods. The escort begs the PCs to go find their friend who needs help, worried for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of others they might come across. Do the PCs agree to go? What help does the temple offer the individual? What war did the individual fight in and how does this affect how the PCs go about looking for them?
  • The PCs are veterans who have all been rewarded land for their service. However, the land is all on freshly painted border, just miles away from one of the bloodiest battles fought in the most recent war. Their former enemies cultivate their own farms within eyeshot and negotiations between the respective capitols have everyone on edge. How do the PCs deal with living so close to the border? Who else resides on the land? Is the border guarded? By who? Are their families there as well?

For PCs

  • Have you served in the military? What did you do in the military?
  • Do you talk about your service? Do you exaggerate or downplay any of it?
  • Does your family have a military tradition?
  • If you served/are serving in the military, why did you join? If you aren’t or haven’t, why not?
  • How do you feel about soldiers? Jealous of their training? In awe of their commitment? Cynical of their intentions? Unimpressed by their devotion?
  • Do you know the history of the battles fought by your country? Do you have respect for soldiers who fought in certain conflicts?
  • How do you react when you see soldiers? War veterans?
  • Do you think of soldiers as heroes, fellow citizens or something else?

What say you? How has surviving war affected your world and your game?

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