Life has been interesting in the Chinese sense lately. Term papers are coming up in my MilPhil and Great War classes. The kids got strep, then Mary got strep, then I got strep with the absolute worst headache I have ever had. I have never in 39 years had what I would consider a "debilitating" headache, and this sure was one. For two weeks I have been missing work, battling illness in myself and my family, and trying to squeeze in school where I can. Stress levels spiked, I've been short tempered, and kinda freaking out a bit.
This brought me to a point of frustration with my hobby life. Aside from my awesome kids, the only thing I have that helps me de-stress is my gaming hobby. It's what I do, darlin'. Lately, I have been profoundly unhappy with that hobby. I used to roll dice all the damn time - some games were awesome, some were lame, some were good but not great. All of them helped me relax. Now, I found that just gaming wasn't enough- it had to be GOOD gaming. For this, I have one Saturday a month with the Royal Dragoon Guards and a valiant attempt at a Star Wars game on Wednesday nights when school and kids don't intervene.
I needed to get my groove back. My enthusiasm, my energy, my ganas. I needed something that I could use to refocus myself and hopefully my fellow Dragoons and get us back on the road to being an active, vibrant, enthusiastic fan organization. I had figured out that part of what makes gaming clubs and fan organizations fun for me is the act of creation. Building and conning these groups give me great satisfaction and joy as my friends and I get to create something that not only has the central purpose of entertaining us all, but provides a framework for us to recognize one another's accomplishments, engage in community service and distinguish ourselves against other groups of the stripe.
We had, as the Royal Dragoons, become complacent. We had imprisoned ourselves within the four walls of our meeting space, doing nothing but roll dice. If we did break out and hit he open road, it was always to the 'Mech Pods - fun, to be sure, and we're doing it again soon, but there is so much else out there for us to do. The gamers of the RDG are capable of more, and most of us take pride in the sort of accomplishments of which we are capable. It was time to find something to help us get back on track. STARFLEET was no longer fitting the bill- the organization is currently paralyzed by a lack of competent, charismatic and decisive leadership. From our chapter all the way up the chain we hear a lot of silence, hemming, haw-ing and passing the buck. It seems our "superiors" in the organization fail to take the least bit of initiative or responsibility. STARFLEET was not where we would excel, although we have decided to continue on as a STARFLEET chapter long enough to see if things will turn around.
Something new and filled with possibilities revealed itself in The Royal Manticoran Navy, the official fan club for David Weber's Honorverse novels. The RMN as an organization was much that STARFLEET was not- STARFLEET was bottom-up, with chapters being sovereign and nothing being standardized. TRMN is top-down, with chapters being held to the standard set by the organization. This appealed to me, and appeals to some of my fellow Dragoons. I volunteered to join up and check out the organization as a member.
So it was that I became PVT Webb of the Royal Manticoran Army. I was immediately struck with the professionalism of the new organization. First of all, TRMN charges no dues. Their communications are strictly online, saving them the money STARFLEET spends on correspondence and the Communique. TRMN generates its funds through sales of patches, rank insignia, t-shirts, polos and running a convention each year. That's right, an actual convention. Not an event like a STARFLEET Summit where only members are involved, but a full convention with author guests (often David Weber himself, this year along with Timothy Zahn) and the bells and whistles medum-sized conventions have come to expect. In nearly every category I have seen, TRMN's approach seems superior to STARFLEET's when looking at purely organizational terms.
The top-down approach of TRMN might seem limiting to members of a chapters-first organization like STARFLEET, but as I watch STARFLEET writhe in paralysis I cannot help but admire the ability the top-down organization of TRMN to make decisions that allow for a professional, standard image to be presented across their organization. They are much less cloudy on how they treat their organizational rank. Promotions are standardized across the fleet for the most part, with any promotion above E6 requiring input from HQ. Awards are likewise standardized at HQ level. Chapters are encouraged to form voluntary associations as divisions and squadrons. Marine and Army units are encouraged to form battalions and regiments. The organization has a clear vision of what it wants to be, and takes measures to ensure its chapters are up to speed with that vision.
This seemed like something I wanted to be a part of. Not only did I love the novels on which the organization is based, I also like the way the group was composed. I joined the smallest of the main commands in the club - The Royal Manticoran Army. The Army isn't covered in much detail in the novels, 99% of the page count is the Navy with a dash of Marine action. The Army intrigued me as it seemed the branch that needed the most "help" as well as the branch where myself and the other members of the RDG could make an impact. I began to take some of the exams offered in their academy, and was again impressed. The examinations were universally 10 questions in length, and a mix of multiple choice and short answer. The RMN academies give no credit for a short answer without a reference. The exams seem to be 1/3 real world history, 1/3 Honorverse history, and 1/3 club operations. As a student of military history, I found some of the questions quite interesting and it inspired me through their questions about the Rifles in the British Army to create my installation of one soldier - Shorncliffe Bivouac.
A Bivouac is TRMN speak for a chapter of 1-9 RMA soldiers. I submitted the paperwork to establish Shorncliffe Bivouac naming it after the traditional military camp, Shorncliffe Redoubt, where the 95th Rifles trained during their existence in the British Army during the Napoleonic campaigns. The RMA brevetted me to Lance Corporal to "command" Shorncliffe Bivouac. I completed, between my college assignments, all the enlisted exams offered by the RMA's academy. I completed the Infantry and Armor schools. I re-read the first three Honor Harrington novels on my tablet late at night when my insomnia was getting the best of me. I had started to find my groove again. I was excited again. I decided to spread the excitement.
Bobby and I had gotten tired of fighting the "bleh" that had infected the Royal Dragoons. Folks showed up, and rolled dice, but most didn't show up on time. Communications were difficult. The excitement was gone, for the most part. We both agreed that it was crazy to keep banging away at trying to make the Royal Dragoons an active and squared-away club if the members just didn't want to put in any sort of work. We agreed, as did the rest of the staff - Ed, Quinn and Trenton, to give this one more try. We would lay it all out for the members at our next meeting. I'll be honest, I wasn't feeling great the morning of 2AUG2014. I had been sick for a week, my head was still dizzy and achey, and I was in a foul mood. The meeting started very shakily - nearly everyone was late. I was about to throw up my hands and throw in the towel. Ed gave a very good classroom on the Corellian system for his Star Wars campaign, and then it was time to give the "are we or aren't we" speech. I wasn't feeling it, but as XO of the club, it was my job.
As we started talking about things the group used to do, there was a stirring in most of the assembled members. We started talking about getting out and doing lazer tag, camping, road trips, conventions and heads nodded and suggestions flowed from the audience. The spark was still there. The interest was still there. The rank-and-file Dragoons were waiting for us, the leaders, to start showing our interest again. The energy began to flow. I began to feel better. The fire was coming back, I was starting to feel like my old self again. Suddenly, we were ready to rock once again. We had two non-meeting events planned - Austin Classic Game Fest and a movie night to go see TMNT. We had an exercise night planned for the 15th. We had people interested in doing the Royal Manticoran thing because we're the Royal Dragoon Guards and we can make it look good.
The meeting didn't end until 0200 the next morning. When we broke for dinner after highly enjoyable Battletech and Star Wars games, we re-convened for OGRE and then 3:16. The esprit de corps that once typified the RDG was coming back. People were interested again. If we build it, they will come. So we're building it.
I will be blogging when I can about the experience of turning Shorncliffe Bivouac into the next largest installation size up, a Barracks, and establishing our group as the first independent Platoon in the Royal Manticoran Army. We're going to get back to community service, back to getting out of our meeting room, back to being shiny. And we're going to make it look awesome.