APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 8 August, 1999



The Way of the Paper

Janne Kemppi

Bureaucracy awakes huge (and usually) sad tales and images in everybody mind. What one seldom sees, however, is what is the vital reason for all the fuss. Bureaucracy is essentially moving, controlling, compiling and checking information. The papers are by themselves nothing special, but what is in those papers usually is.

Size of bureaucracy can vary tremendously, even between organizations of similar size and scope. This depends mostly on how much information is being regularly collected and for how many purposes. The amount of information, and effort naturally depend on how much checks and summaries one wants to have with the things running inside the bureaucracy.

Checks are vital because they are used to ensure that whole system works properly. On the other hand, more checks are being done, the more complex, slowly and cumbersome the whole affair gets. At times this gets so bad that the right hand does not know what left does creating, as anyone could guess, even more bureaucracy to ensure that things do go right (but they usually don't).

Another great problem is the inertia often associated with large bureaucracies. When something has been decided or is being done the project gets a life of its own and keeps on grinding forwards even through it should had been changed, postponed, cancelled, enchanted or mutated beyond all recognition a long time ago. These kinds of projects often bring out another dimension inside any large bureaucracy, which is the people working on it.

Humans are by their very nature extremely fickle beings and those working in any bureaucracy are by no means any different. The human dimension is that every person working on anything usually does for their own, usually selfish, reasons. People have careers that rise and fall according to their place in the food chain of position and projects inside any large bureaucracy. When you into this ambition, greed, hate, jealousy, fear and groveling too, the mixture gets interesting as accountability is forgotten or conveniently forgotten in general free-for-all to save one's neck or to ruin someone else day.

Accountability is very important part of any large bureaucracy and lack of it can have catastrophic consequences. For example in 1997 General Accounting Office in United Stated released a report detailing the results of audit in side US Department of Defense that is supposed to handle all American military interests. According to the report, the Pentagon admitted having simply lost 18 billion dollars and that their report concluded that actual sum is at least 25 billion more. All this from budget of some 250 billion dollars indicating that some 15% of the money allocated was spent in ways military had no clue whatsoever of what it was used for or what was got with it.

Information is power and controlling the information is the ultimate power. Internal fights and feuds inside any bureaucracy often circle around this fact. Withholding, delaying or diverting papers can have huge impact when presented in a right time and a way. Some spin doctoring is often added to spice up the truth into more manageable form. Quite often more unsavory practices or questionable projects are simply dropped out or conveniently forgotten to avoid open feuds and to keep facade of everything working.

Bureaucracy is thus something that lies there always, good, bad or plain ignored until it is time it touches the lives of player characters in Heavy Gear. Bureaucracy can be treated in Heavy Gear campaign in three different ways depending on game masters viewpoint:

First viewpoint is that bureaucracy is no issue at all. This is quite suitable to cinematic role playing, where action is supposed to be fast and furious. Realism and reality are not an issue nor pencil thumbing. In this kind of setting the bureaucracy might be presented in lighthearted was or as a plot device to get characters into adventure. For example a petty bureaucrat might have gotten lost of characters papers. Getting new ones might be a push towards adventure. Alternatively bureaucracy might be used as a gaming trick to get action moving by making bureaucracy somehow getting characters to their teeth and into the trouble.

While heroic fiction seldom presents paper moving as anything close to destroying evil villains space fortresses, tight paced action might be build around deadline or bureaucratic setting. Here adventures might have element of light comedy, where characters are outrageously using it to their advantage.

Second viewpoint is that bureaucracy in general works. It has glitch at times but nothing terribly serious. This is 'normal' state of things in Heavy Gear. The players have to obey laws of the game world and live with the bureaucracy and get along with it. Typically here the bureaucracy could be presented as necessary evil. Simple rolls might be used to rapidly depict the efforts and their results in brushings with paper work.

Here GM might introduce adventures including bureaucracy as a change to existing framework of adventures. For example, after a particularly long and epic struggle of saving the world again, the mind numbing and potentially hilarious argument over paper clippings might be a good way to relieve tension. Besides any good GM knows the value of sliding characters down a peck or two.

Third viewpoint is that bureaucracy is straight from the hell and takes tremendous amount of time and effort to make it through. This can be either GMs firm decision that everything will be noted down and "if you're not mentioning it, it will not be with you". This is extremely tiresome for people who are mostly curious of adventuring.

There are times when this kind of approach is very appropriate. For example post apocalypse era where everything is scarce. This is seldom the case in Terra Nova although this might happen due dire circumstances. Such situations might be natural catastrophes, isolation in deserts, extreme military situations and like where everything is scarce and fight over few remaining resources is probably savage. Temptation to use any means necessary to obtain what they need might be tempting and GM is advised then to keep note of people who characters stepped over. These characters might be encountered later in situation where player characters are going to be at the short end of the stick. Actions should have consequences and this can provide resource of new adventures.

In the closing argument, the Heavy Gear campaign could take a radical turn and become Heavy Paper. Characters do not need to be facing the bureaucracy but they can embrace it by being small cogs in the big machine. In bureaucratic campaign the daily fight concentrates on issues like position of the coffee machine, inventing clever ways to play games in work place while avoiding boss and such ilk. Great deal of fun can be gotten from small daily chores like this. GM could read various cartoons (such as Dilbert) and memoirs linked to corporate life to get idea of how practically useless small details can blow out of all proportion. Have fun clogging people's computers with junk email and such.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 8 August, 1999