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» Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.
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Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

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Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

Post  Moocow on Mon Dec 01, 2014 1:35 am

Disclaimer: This is a discussion of tropes in HL2RP servers as a whole, and is not a personal attack on this server. Most observations herein are from previous servers that I've been on, the problems of said servers being the basis for this piece.

The acronym KISS, while cliche and overused, is an acronym to live by. Keep it simple, stupid. It sums up a simple fact: that structures in something as prone to failure as a roleplay server should be simple in design, easy to work in and make use of, and practical in nature.

But in the case of certain schemas and canons, like HL2RP, simplicity may often be ignored in the name of tradition. Some structural tropes are used typically because, well, they were used in previous servers, and since we look back at the past with rose-tinted goggles, it's hard to let go of those conventions.

There's only so much to be said for some elements, however. In the case of factions, the resistance is typically either the sporadic low-intensity fighting of some enterprising players, or a forum for administrators to stroke their egos and ogle their custom content. Similarly, the Civil Workers' Union is typically a dorky little organization full of dorky characters who are either pro-Union without knowing why they're pro-Union, or closeted resistance characters who use the Workers' Union for free resources and get-out-of-jail-free cards.

These problems, in general, are small. They can be bypassed or ignored with the right touch.

However, when glaring problems exist with the Civil Protection, the rest of the server suffers. They are the dynamic that the server administration almost always has the most control over. They are the most visible and populous faction. And they're essential for driving the conflict that makes HL2RP interesting.

So, I'll start by saying that you guys have done a much better job than a lot of servers at managing your units. They don't act like wacky cardboard cartoon characters that have no individual personality outside of the basic caricatures of a Civil Protection unit. That's really good. But there are other things, structural things, that I think deserve a little change.

I'll start with the most obvious one, and the one that I usually get the most pushback for trying to change:


Divisions seem useful on the surface. It gives units something to do outside of their regular jobs, and allows them to engage in types of roleplay that they might find more interesting.


Divisions, especially on smaller servers, hurt more than they help.

First, we'll start with the chain of command. Every division, one would imagine, should have a division leader to direct the actions of their units toward their specific duties. But having multiple division leaders poses multiple logistical problems.

For one, you have to fill these positions. And typically, those positions are filled with friends, because you trust and know your friends. But your friends aren't all going to have equal knowledge and leadership skill, because they're not all the same person.

And yet, you're giving them all the same rank. So you have a bunch of leaders for divisions that don't necessarily have players and they all have the same rank despite probably not being entirely equal on all levels regarding their skill and merit.

No doubt, you've probably chosen smart people and good units to lead these divisions, but they could be put to better use with their focus on the streets, all working together under a consistent chain of command.

See, putting multiple people in similar positions on a small scale threatens the chain of command. If two, or even three division leaders disagree on how to handle a situation, you have conflict. In a chain of command, you typically defer that conflict to a higher authority. But that requires a sector commander (I dunno if you have one) and that position is typically ceremonial and out-of-character in nature, and not given to activity.

Furthermore, one division leader might make their units behave one way, while another mandates another. That can be exploited and used to the advantage of a smart, enterprising rebel.

Now, conflict of this nature could be a good thing, a way to add some substance to the roleplay, but creating conflict and reducing efficiency is not the role of divisions, and an alien empire is definitely not interested in either of those outcomes. The impact of this problem is mitigated over a macro scale, where you have one leader moving some ten units along, but it isn't worth it to try to apply on a server that seems to get typically around 10-15 players; the risks end up outweighing the rewards.

It will always be better to have an effective chain of command where you put your best and brightest at the top and give them the responsibility of coordinating their subordinates. You don't necessarily have that effect if your leadership is dispersed among two, three, or even four authority positions with no active higher power to defer to.

Second, we'll talk about the individual roles of the typical divisions and why they aren't necessary.

The Doctors

Out of all the divisions, this division makes the most sense. Cops get shot. So, you fix them.

But there's a core logistical problem in contracting out medicine to the Civil Protection. For one, you need to consider the practical applications. Civil Protection units are, more or less, paramilitaries. They and their superiors are primarily concerned with maintaining order. They keep the occupied from trying to throw out the occupiers. They maintain the empire by crushing opposition on the ground.

Doing that requires practical training and skill, and it requires focus. Doctors require that criteria even more; medicine is complicated, it is not fully understood, and it requires years of education, instruction, training, and just plain experience to understand its nuances and fully grasp the mechanics of anatomy that lead to diagnosis and effective treatment.

This is especially true in the day and age of HL2RP; not only are doctors few and far between, but much of the medical literature is either lost to ruin and destruction or isolated somewhere in the world in some library or bookshelf as a physical copy with no digital archive.

To be good at your job, you need to know what you're doing, be experienced at what you're doing, and be focused on said thing. You can't stop mid-surgery to respond to a robbery. You can't expect to have enough time and knowledge to be both an effective enforcer and an effective doctor. And the people who have had the time and the knowledge base to become a great doctor probably aren't young, aren't necessarily physically or emotionally strong enough to handle being a Civil Protection unit, and failing all else are probably just not interested.

Even medics in military situations are either doctors in non-combat roles or only have enough training to stabilize someone, not fix someone.

For all intents and purposes, it would make the most sense to just give basic first-aid training to all your units, and then leave the complicated stuff to either CWU doctors or in-house loyalists.

The Investigators

Sometimes, you have your divisions that try to go CSI on the scene of a crime and apply forensic policework to their job as units.

But it's bullshit. Total bullshit.

As a player, you don't know what actually happened at a crime scene unless you metagamed to figure it out. The script usually doesn't have the infrastructure for it. And you can't just up and ask 'hey who murdered my friend' over OOC to try and get their fingerprints. Someone can easily just say 'I wore gloves' or 'I picked up the bullet casings' or 'I cleaned up the blood afterwards.' Sure, you could get an admin involved at that point, but it isn't worth creating a shitstorm about it, because all that does is stall roleplay, create drama, and ruin fun, and for what? It's bullshit, and it's impractical.

But even if you don't believe that, you have to realize that it's just unnecessary. The Civil Protection is a force with virtually unlimited power over the civilian populace. They have the authority to search, seize, threaten, detain, attack, intimidate, and murder just about any average Joe that they want. That makes traditional policework - asking questions, following leads, comparing stories, that kind of thing - much easier.

It also makes bad leads and fuck-ups a lot less consequential for them personally. They don't have to worry about determining who is innocent or guilty. Out of a crowd of three potential suspects, they can just kill all three of them if they want; threatening to do so can make those in the pact of silence turn against one another. When questioning a single individual, they can easily drag in that person's sister, best friend, or wife, and threaten to shoot them in the face if they don't get answers.

Not only is that more practical and more interesting, but it's something that any unit can do, rendering a division for it unnecessary.

The Engineers

Another common division involves engineering.

I'm going to be upfront here: in my experience, most of the things that engineering divisions do are bullshit or trivial. Either they're making scanners talk and turning pistols into sniper rifles, or they're physgunning a barrier from point A to point B and getting an admin to /staticpropadd it.

Other times, in between the two extremes, they're just pretending to know what they're doing without actually doing anything specific. At that point, the only thing you're doing different from anyone else in the Union is /me-ing something that vaguely has to do with what you're trying to fix and then asking an admin to /event the lights coming back on.

Even then, you face the same problem that you faced with the doctors; people who are engineers are not necessarily interested in becoming military police, and engineering is a field that requires focus, experience, and education.

Even more, barring simple hallmark fixes, taking on the task of repairing a fucked-up power generator can take days, if not weeks. Remember that before an engineer can fix a problem, they need to figure out what the problem is, and that it can take long periods of time for teams of engineers whose sole jobs are engineering to fix certain things. Hence, contracting that work out to the Civil Protection isn't very efficient.

I won't say that you shouldn't be able to have your engineer roleplay, but it doesn't make sense to give that responsibility to a paramilitary organization. Like before, leave it to civilians in the CWU.

The Researchers

Some servers take the doctors and the engineers a step forward, and they let their units do research.

The things that I've said about doctors and engineers can just the same sum up why this shouldn't be happening, but I think something should be emphasized specifically.

The Civil Protection is a paramilitary occupation force. Its primary goal is maintaining order. It hires regular, unimportant volunteers from the native population. So why would anyone let such an organization, one populated by average volunteers, one whose ranks are filled with expendable and replaceable meat sacks, do any kind of advanced research? They are not academics, they would not be trusted to do such things, and they would not be given the necessary resources because of those facts.

But again, if a server really has to have RnD roleplay, then it should be left to civilian researchers in the CWU.

The Special Forces

This one is special, because it isn't like the last three that we've talked about. In this case, people who want special forces squads typically want something like SWAT teams for the CP.

But they miss something absolutely essential: the Civil Protection is largely already like a SWAT team. They use breaching tactics. They have access to high-power weaponry. If lead correctly and executed properly, they wreck just as much shit in the War on Sedition as your regular SWAT team does in the War on Drugs. And that is precisely because, again, they are a paramilitary organization with military power.

They are not your friendly neighborhood cop who drives around in his Crown Victoria, listening to the dispatch radio and eating donuts while talking to his partner in the passenger seat about how he fucked his wife last night.

They are the man in a German military uniform wielding an MP-40 while standing on a street-corner in Copenhagen in 1942. They are the United States Marine serving an arrest warrant out in the sticks of Iraq in 2004.

In other words, they are the authority. A step above their level is the actual military which, in this case, would be the Transhuman Arm. If someone is too dangerous for your paramilitaries to handle, you'd better break out your big guns.

Any intermediary is superfluous. It weakens the position of actual units because, oh, they aren't the real badasses, they don't do the real heavy lifting, we shouldn't be afraid of them, we should be afraid of the special badass division.

You want all of your units to get shit done, and you want all of them to have tangible authority with the civilian populace. A special forces squad makes achieving those goals harder.

The Undercover Agents

This is less asking to do away with undercover units and more asking to do away with a division for undercover units, if it exists, because having an open and available division defeats the purpose.

Don't get me wrong, going undercover is fun, and it's a very sensible tool. But if you want to be good at being undercover, then your cover shouldn't end the moment you put the suit on. Making a dedicated "division" where your unit has a special armband and a special uniform and a special word in their name just makes the squad useless. After all, if you're open about there being an undercover squad, then people will find out about it, and rebel types will start scrutinizing their friends even closer. That makes it harder for undercover operations to succeed from the get-go.

Think about it. Just like the Union can put weasels in the resistance, the resistance can put weasels in the Union. If units wear their super seekrit undercover status on their shirts, you can be sure that a shill will be spilling all the beans about it to his terrorist buddies.

There's a reason that certain things are classified in real life, because you can only really trust certain levels in the chain of command with certain kinds of knowledge. If you want undercover units, then no other units should know about their undercover status except for higher command. They should continue to perform their duties as units, or otherwise never flag up. It needs to be secretive, and creating an open dedicated division hurts that secrecy.

With all that being said,

I covered all of those bases specifically because I'm not 100% familiar with your division system, and every system is different.

Regardless, the point is that there just shouldn't be divisions. They pose logistical and practical problems, especially to smaller servers, and a lot of the time their roles are superfluous and can be fulfilled with tactics that just generally make the unit base more well-rounded.

Now, I get it. Changes will have to be made, and the things I describe may not directly fit the situation on the server. I'm speaking from five years experience across multiple servers.

Take this piece as a whole, and seriously consider doing away with divisions.

This is part one of a piece where I'll go through some other potentially harmful tropes in the HL2RP world and explain why I think certain changes should be made. Thanks a bunch for reading, if you've got to this part! If I ever get around to writing more, I'll be writing it as a response to this thread.

Last edited by Moocow on Mon Dec 01, 2014 3:30 am; edited 2 times in total


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Re: Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

Post  Moocow on Mon Dec 01, 2014 2:22 am


Bullshit can come in many forms, but the purpose is usually the same, and it can be summed up in one sentence:

I want to win, at the expense of everyone else's enjoyment.

Here are some common examples of bullshit:
1. Cameras that don't actually exist and cannot actually be monitored by an actual person at any actual time, but instead act as an excuse by the Civil Protection to metagame.
2. Arguments about nutrition that the unit would never have brought up outside of trying to make sure you don't overpower him in combat.
3. Superfluous and convoluted gear ("high-tech" or otherwise) that exists solely to remove every possible avenue of escape for aspiring terrorists.
4. Augmentations with no actual purpose, save for giving administrators and elite units an excuse to act like the Incredible Hulk and handwave physical injury.

But before we can go further, we need to establish some base facts:
- Conflict drives narratives.
- In a good narrative, the conflict motivates characters to act and react.
- In a good narrative, characters have at least some level of agency that they can use to act on those motivations.
- The action and reaction of characters carries the story forward; it opens doors to new conflicts and builds character arcs.
- Therefore, a setting that does not allow a level of agency is either a very short or a very boring story.

This is precisely why Half-Life 2 Roleplay often quickly becomes stale. The central conflict of the setting is the interaction between the Civil Protection, the neutral civilian populace, and the few that choose to rise against their oppressors. Without each of those three elements, there is no conflict, and the story becomes boring.

So, how does bullshit factor into this? Well, on many servers, players in the Civil Protection deliberately use convoluted means to quell resistance before any interesting action can occur.

What's that, you tried to stab a unit in the neck? Haha, nope! They actually have a neckguard on, or something!

Huh? You and your buddy overpowered a unit and kicked their ribs all to shit? Oh well! They just instantly sent out a message alerting every Civil Protection unit ever with, I dunno', their eyes, I guess!

Wait a minute, did you just put a suspicious package under that bench in the train station? And, my God, it just exploded, killing three units! Good thing there was totally a camera, right there, right in front of the bench, watching you, to see your face; also, we totally have facial recognition software that we used to track down your data, so, if you try to get rations, you're boned. Good luck!

The point I'm trying to make is that both the terrorists and the Civil Protection need to be willing to give and take, to lose. No doubt, your average rag-tag resistance movement is going to have a much harder time making actual change, versus the equipped and armed Civil Protection service.

But the odds, without direct administrative support at least, are already stacked against the resistance from the get-go. Who has the guns? The CP. Who has the authority? The CP. Who can search, arrest, harass, threaten, assault, and murder whomever they want without consequence? The CP.

If the CP cannot manage to take down a couple of rinky-dink pistol-wielding wannabe revolutionaries without resorting to thinly-veiled attempts at metagaming and powergaming, then the CP is not being managed correctly. If a unit cannot take the proper behavioral precautions to avoid getting themselves wrecked and their shit stolen (watching their back, sticking with a partner, keeping suspects in their line of sight) then they aren't doing their jobs correctly.

This is not to criticize, but instead to make a point: The CP can do its job fine without cameras and heavy armor and augments and high-tech gear.

The importance of this as I eluded to earlier is that out of character, the CP should be willing to trade small defeats like muggings, assaults, and escaped captives (and let them get away with these things temporarily rather than immediately stopping them) in return for the ensuing chases, investigations, and vamping-ups of city security. The OOC leadership of the CP must be willing to lose an immediate battle in exchange for the coming fun in the ensuing protracted war.

For example, if a unit gets robbed, it's a much more potent and longer-lasting character experience for the robber to get away for the time being, while the unit is forced to nakedly slink back to the Nexus and awkwardly explain to his CO that his stuff just got stolen. In the absence of an immediate solution to the problem, a unit is punished for his failures, the morale of the organization is overall reduced, and the CP has a fair reason to ramp up security and pursue an investigation.

Meanwhile, the man who ran off with 12345's peashooter and bulletproof vest is getting ideas in his head. He tells his friends that he's got a gun, and he tries to rally them around some more devious and complicated plots. Maybe some of his friends disagree with him, and try to stop him. Maybe some want to work with him. Maybe this little conflict boils over, and creates some nice passive stuff to work out between them. Maybe they go through with their plan, and a unit gets killed. Maybe they cheese it real quick-like, or maybe they stay and get in a firefight.

At multiple points, the CP can do something to link the mugging back to the guy who committed it, just by asking questions, using intimidation, and carrying out random searches and sweeps. If you wanna' get histrionic, put a bullet in someone's head out in the open, and make the perps feel the blame for it. In this instance, the conflict and its characters have arcs and individual stories; you have the potential to get some people pissed and scare the piss out of others, and you open up various new and interesting directions.

But none of that happens if, from the outset of the mugging, you alert every single unit in a five-mile radius with some made-up technology.

In the simplest terms, it is appropriate if not necessary to impose in-character and out-of-character limitations on the CP in the interest of permitting conflict that moves the story forward.

Now, in addressing in-character concerns, bullshit has a way of creeping into HL2RP using the common line of thought that, "Well, they're the Combine! They can do whatever they want, whenever they want! They have the tools to make the Civil Protection wholly and totally unstoppable! Why wouldn't they?"

In addressing this way of thinking, let's get one thing out of the way, straightaway:

Civil Protection units are not important. It doesn't matter what number or string of letters is slapped on next to their service digits; they serve only as pawns, as tools to keep things orderly while oceans are drained, while minerals are harvested, and while an effective way of turning the human creature into a weapon of war is developed.

They are utterly and completely expendable. If a commander gets capped, sure, we sound the alarms, we rally the troops, we go out and we murder a couple of people, but that's not because anyone other than the units themselves actually care about what happens to said commander. It's to set an example, to prove that the CP ain't nothin' to fuck with, and to try and deter others from following in their example.

Meanwhile, the brass lines up another guy to take the reins, and life goes on as it did before. If the new commander displays incompetence, they just kill him and put someone else in his place. They can do it as many times as they want, because there are still plenty of bruised and hungry people that are willing to cash in their morality for three hots and a cot. Simultaneously, the last surviving youths of the Old World are coming of age, having grown up in camps and factories slathered in Union symbols and propaganda; they're prime candidates for recruitment into the world's premier babysitting service.

The slugs at the top only care about what they can get out of the people still around. Remember that the Union comes from an entirely different dimension. Earth doesn't exist so much as a resource in of itself as a foot in the door; its resources are more of a temporary convenience, a passing fancy with a few potential practical applications. Instead, Earth is their way into a universe ripe for exploration and exploitation.

That continues to exist regardless of whether or not humanity does, so the Union has no real reason to care about what the people do as long as they don't mess with the status quo. Neither killing everyone nor making everyone happy is worth the time, effort, or resources, in their minds; it's much cheaper and easier to put subservient cattle in charge of the herd, much in the way the British Empire would put supportive local leaders in control of its colonies while siphoning off said colony's riches and using said colonies as a stepping stone for further expansion.

That being said, the Combine has no incentive to provide any more resources to the CP than it has to; quite simply, it doesn't care if units are dying, as long as seditious individuals are dying at the same rate and buy and large the civilian populace is sedentary. Put another way, a dead native mask man does not cause the slugs concern, but a riot does.

So, with that in mind, the Combine would have no incentive to devote its resources to refurbishing decaying old camera systems or implementing new ones beyond the types clearly visible in the game. Similarly, the Combine would have no incentive to approve requisitions for high-tech gear (a 'biosignal' is little more than a pulse monitor and a GPS tracker; the terminals, consoles, force-fields, and futuristic infrastructure likely already existed prior to their invasion and were at most redesigned and mass-produced for use on Earth).

This is nothing to say of the security implications of giving powerful equipment to the CP. Units are still people, after all, and like people, they make mistakes, they change their minds, they reach breaking points. The brass has little reason to trust the CP with high-power stuff, because Civil Protection units are still people, and all it might take is a unit gone rogue, a moment of incompetence, a brief period of absentmindedness when walking down the wrong hallway, and bam -- that equipment ends up in the wrong hands.

In other words, the risk overpowers the potential payoff and is not worth the investment. The Union doesn't give a shit about how awful the CP is making the citizens' lives, they just want results, said results being a docile population.

And that leaves the question: What does (or should) the Civil Protection have?

Simple. A vest, a gun, a uniform, and a virtually unlimited amount of authority over the civilian populace. That formula sustained authoritarian regimes for decades before the war (such as the Soviet Union), and those regimes kept themselves up with relatively little fancy technology (most of the Soviet stockpile was used as a way to wave its genitals at the United States rather than as a tool for domestic control). It wasn't terrorism that knocked those regimes down, either; usually, it either destroyed itself or was dissolved by a foreign power.

By comparison, the Union doesn't have the same problems: to our knowledge, there are few internal divisions in the high command that affect the world of the average citizen (unlike the divisions between the hard-line Communist old guard and reformers like Gorbachev that led to the Soviet collapse), and in the post-war world no other significant political or military power exists to challenge the Combine's authority.

Ultimately, simple things like restraint, effective leadership, common-sense rules/behaviors (like a buddy system), and simple detective work can yield satisfying returns in an environment of escalating tension and rising stakes, without rendering the server a boring wasteland.

As a side note: "datapads" are very similar in nature to bullshit. If you want to check and modify a citizen's records, it should be at a terminal. Why? Because having instant access to records is a ridiculous advantage. It makes any attempt of obscuring your identity impossible, and again hinders the storytelling process, and again, it comes down to the same kinds of questions that a slug would be asking:

Why would we give iPads to the apes when they can get along fine with less?
Why would we set up the wireless infrastructure to make them connect to the system?
Why would we trust the apes not to let the technology fall into the wrong hands and end in a massive security breach?

And in response to "Well, they have encryption and stuff, man,"

Why would we invest in encrypting devices that they so clearly don't need? That's just another entry cost that makes the whole ordeal less appealing.

Now, that doesn't mean that the CP should be powerless as to determine if someone is who they say they are in immediate situations; all you have to do is demand an I.D. card. If they fail to produce an I.D. card, and the crime is too minor not to warrant the effort of dragging them to a terminal to check their credentials, then all you have to do is write their "name" down in your notepad and check the data later.

You warn them that, if their info is incorrect, you'll find them and break their legs, then give them a second chance to give their right info. If it turns out that they have a fake name, then next time you see them, you rip them a new asshole and make them pay for obstructing justice.

Taking things a step further, a high-profile resistant type should be able to give a fake name and a forged I.D. with the right connections. The best way of implementing this, I'd imagine, would be to make an ID card item (and a corresponding forgery item on the black market).

A simple fix would be to take down their info on, say, a notepad, and enter that info into the system later. If units fail to meet those obligations, then that is purely their fault for being lazy or forgetful, and they should be punished accordingly. It might be tedious, but life is full of tedium, and the level of tedium that a unit has to put up with is incomparable to that of a regular citizen, because unlike a unit, a citizen can't shoot, beat, or voice-command their problems away.

Last edited by Moocow on Fri Dec 05, 2014 10:10 pm; edited 2 times in total


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Re: Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

Post  Moocow on Mon Dec 01, 2014 2:22 am

Reserved, again.


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Re: Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

Post  Dr. Mannulus on Tue Dec 02, 2014 11:35 pm

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That is all.

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Re: Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

Post  The Jukebox on Thu Dec 04, 2014 7:44 pm

I agree with everything here.

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Re: Civil Protection Tropes: Why some are bad, and why you should change them.

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