An RPG Resource Review:
The book opens with an Introduction that explains that it, along with World Militaries, is designed to facilitate the creation of characters (and of course NPCs) in military service, whether they are now involved in intelligence activities or still on active service. Due to the rules compatibility, it's good for producing recruits (or opposition) for Stargate SG-1 games as well.
Chapter 1: The Department of Defense provides an overview of the way in which the US armed services operate and are controlled, and is particularly useful to those readers (like myself) who are not Americans. Basically, the US President is the Commander-in-Chief, and his chief advisor on matters military is the Secretary of Defense, a cabinet-level civilian appointee who heads the Department of Defense. This has a mixture of civilian and military (usually serving on secondment) staff with various areas of expertise... and of course, everything is subject to Congressional oversight as well. The Army, Navy and Air Force each have their own departments within this structure, with the Marine Corps coming under the control of the Department of the Navy. The US Coast Guard occupies an interesting position, they are controlled by the Department of Homeland Security in times of peace (formerly they belonged to the Department of Transportation) and switch to the Department of the Navy in case of war.
As well as a lot more detail on the command structure and funding of US armed forces, this chapter also contains a brief introduction of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. This is the body of law to which everyone in uniform is subject, and includes not only things you'd appear before a civil court for (like murder or theft) but things like disobeying a lawful order or conduct unbecoming an officer. And of course, spying! While followers of the TV show 'JAG' will be familiar with this, there’s a brief outline of sample charges and the punishments meted out to the guilty, as well as an outline of how a court martial works. The chapter ends with a comparative rank chart for all services.
The following five chapters look at each service in turn: Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard. Each follows a similar format, looking at the history, organisation, training, tactics and traditions and customs of each branch of service. There's a wealth of fascinating detail in each chapter which should enable a player unfamiliar with that branch to at least have some idea of what his character might have done during service. Note the 'done' – the whole thing is written as if a character's service has been completed before the game begins… not always the case, particularly if you want to use this book with Stargate, as most members of a Stargate team are serving military personnel who have been transferred to Stargate Command for the duration of their service there. The 'Training' section in each chapter covers the entry requirements and basic training given to all recruits, as well as more specialist training available later and the routes to service available to potential officers, and details of some of the most renowned training facilities to which service members may be assigned. A few notes on attributes and skills required or imparted are included, but these chapters are rules-light. They are amply illustrated with line art of personnel and equipment – I can recognise many of the military vehicles which are quite accurately depicted, but captions would have been a nice touch.
While these chapters provide a good introduction and overview, people wishing to inject more realism into military characters would do well to undertake some research online (unless of course they are veterans themselves). As well as official and other sites devoted to the different branches of service, you'll find that many bases and ships have their own websites; and there are also ones devoted to particular specialties and even to minutiae like uniforms and medals.
The final chapter is devoted to new rules arising from the military emphasis of this book. It starts with a discussion of mechanisms for determining what rank a character with a military background held, or – in the case of a game with a military intelligence setting – still holds, including in the latter case how to calculate promotion chances based on performance and seniority (modelled by recalculating the promotion prospects every time the agent gains a level). There are even negative modifiers for those who blot their copybooks during play – along with notes for which actions might attract a court martial or even a 'Big Chicken Dinner' (the slang term for a Bad Conduct Discharge). More notes on how a military game might operate follow, including the chain of command, giving and receiving orders, and even decorations that may be awarded by the GC if the agents show particular courage or devotion to duty.
Next comes a look at the US Military as a set of Spycraft 'Department' options, with the benefits and penalties each one would give you if chosen during character generation. Firstly you choose the branch of service, and then your specialty within that service. Next comes an array of military-based Feats which you may choose for your character. There are also some military NPC classes to cover the folks you’ll meet when venturing onto a military base or otherwise mixing with the armed forces.
The next set of rules relate to a neat idea – a series of 'training programs' which may be purchased using Gadget Points to give an agent a mission-useful skill on a short term basis... it's something that has certainly come in handy in some of the Living Spycraft serials when, for example, the agents have to make a HALO drop into enemy territory but don’t happen to know how to parachute! The benefits last only for the serial in which you request the training, but it's possible to requalify by paying the GP cost again although you don’t have to spend as much time on this 'refresher' course as you do on the original training.
Then we take a look at some of the resources that access to the military may provide during a mission – like calling an air strike in on the Bad Guy's position, for example. One particularly useful one for agents overseas is the ability to gain the cooperation of a US Embassy's Marine Corps security detail. There are also new bundles to ask for, a detailed exposition of the Battle Dress Utility uniform, military-style medical equipment and even dress uniforms and swords – again, search the web if you want to know what all these items look like. These little details, which may seem trivial to a civilian, are extremely important to any serving or veteran personnel you encounter! There's a list of the standard weapons found in each branch of service, with the note that serving personnel are strongly discouraged if not outright forbidden to carry other weapons instead. The chapter rounds off with copious details of military vehicles that may be available, and a section on converting these Spycraft rules for use in Stargate games – most of the differences are ones of nomenclature than substance, as the rules are basically the same for both games. The book rounds off with a glossary of military terms and slang.
This book really provides good background material for people who wish their characters to have realistic backgrounds in the armed forces of the United States. There are some niggling inaccuracies, and it is difficult for a character to actually progress in a military career (apart from the promotion rules) during play. You'd need to do some work if you want to run a military campaign.
Overall, it is an excellent overview of the armed forces of the United States, which would be good reading for anyone wishing to portray a veteran character, even if it's in another contemporary game setting.
[4 of 5 Stars!]