The Military Variable accounts for the capacities of war, but also terrorists, militias, rebels, equipment, training levels, leadership, and other resources.
In general this looks at the area of interests capability to join forces inside and outside its walls.
So how do we use this as writers?
The Military Variable in Fiction
I’m going to refer to A Song of Ice and Fire series because it’s the freshest example in my memory bank. Also, it is a great reference for military movements, assessments, and battles. Even with it being set in a different world and time, you can still learn lessons from these books.
Capacities of War
This looks at the combat readiness, force structure, modernization, and sustainability of forces.
Combat Readiness is a fancy term for how well trained the military force is. Are your forces organized like those of the Royal Families in A Song of Ice and Fire? Or are they more like the mountain clans, fearsome warriors with less discipline and more brutality? Do they have swords thrust in their hands at young ages to fight straw stuffed enemies, or do they join with their clan in raids? Obviously, there are many structures of fighting forces. But the combat readiness can tell you much about your military and the society they come from.
Force structure is something easily recognized in a formal military force, but maybe not as much in something like the mountain clans. Also, A Song of Ice and Fire brings in sellswords, or bought muscle. In a formal army, generals command their forces with branch leadership below. The number of branches and titles will vary by force, but there remains a clear chain of command. This also leaves a simple order of who takes command when someone in charge dies. For less organized groups, the leadership is a chief chosen by people, battle, or seniority. The entire group answers to the leader, though some of their underlings may take leadership roles. Often, once the leader falls in such a group, new leaders rise through voting, contest, or by taking charge of the situation. What kind of structure does your military have? And what does it say about your society?
Modernization is a concept that ties in all four capacities of war, but the key aspects here are systems and equipment. In A Song of Ice and Fire, readers find an expected system of communication using bird and human messengers. “Dark wings, dark words.” Is a common refrain. But also, the leaders of the various groups look at the weapon and communication capabilities. They can shoot birds down with arrows and track and capture messengers. So what level of communication are you working with in your story? The pony express? Snail mail? Or instantaneous travel? Tyrion Lannister is a great example of ingenuity and attempts at modernization as he challenges the standard of battle in Blackwater. When looking at equipment, consider what protects the troops/civilians? What armaments are available/used? What equipment helps transport troops?
Sustainability of forces:
Sustainability of forces is a focus on the health of soldiers, civilians, and any other parties that might strain resources. Can the military support themselves through hunting or food stores? Or if laid under siege, like many in A Song of Ice and Fire, they would starve in a few weeks? The sustainability also looks at motivation. Are they a tightly knit group that can support each other, or do they turn on each other if someone offers them gold, food, or safety?
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