Hard Power for Hire

Hard Power for Hire: Management and Employment of Mercenaries in Ashes of Creation

Note: This is article is written by Davlos, posted from another platform on Nov. 11, 2017.

To provide sound military and strategic advice.
To provide a highly professional and confidential military advisory service to legitimate governments.
To provide the most professional military training packages currently available to armed forces, covering aspects related to sea, air, and land warfare.
To provide advice to armed forces on weapon and weapon platform selection.
To provide a total apolitical service based on confidentiality, professionalism, and dedication.
            – Mission Statement of Executive Outcomes


Most “mercenary” player organizations (i.e. clan, guild, corporation) in MMOs are mercenary companies in all but name. When there is a lack of agency among players to inflict meaningful consequences among others (without resorting to means which breaks Terms of Service), the idea of paying an organization (“guild”) to exert the client’s will over another guild is meaningless.  Based on information publicly available by Intrepid Studios, Ashes of Creation is a MMO which maximizes player agency by a) allowing players to capture, hold and develop territory, b) allowing competing power blocs to attack each other, to c) inflict permanent and material harm (or consequences) upon opposing power blocs, and ultimately d) has no overly oppressive NPC enforcement to play the role of night watchman to keep the peace among players. All of the above conditions point to the viability of having a mercenary guild in Ashes of Creation which may accept contracts to achieve objectives of substance on behalf of a client.

Mercenary work in Ashes of Creation may take on different forms. On the most fundamental level, external military support in the provision of and/or supplementing the client’s hard power is the service offered by any such mercenary guilds – profit-driven organizations specializing in providing military skills, ranging from combat at the tip of the spear, strategic planning and intelligence gathering at command and control, and logistical support, training and technical assistance at the rear echelon. The quoted mission statement of Executive Outcomes – a now-defunct private military company with roots in the South African Defence Force, succinctly sums up the range of services and expertise any aspiring mercenary guild should strive to offer.

Services Offered by Mercenary Guilds

The mere act of killing other players on behalf of the client, while certainly core to the concept of hiring a mercenary army, is not the only service provided by this profession. Trade and supply lines are facilitated by caravan, which must be escorted by players and NPCs alike. Merchant and other PVE guilds which seek to carry out their economic activities unmolested may lack the necessary experience or aptitude to defend themselves against hostile players who threaten them. Fledging PVP guilds who may have the numbers but lack the equipment or expertise can very well use the advice of advisers dispatched from experienced mercenary organizations. An alliance at war with an opposing power bloc may realize it lacks capable scouts, or requires an alternate supply route which may be closed off to the client but grants permission for the mercenaries to pass. Where open world raids are concerned, mercenaries may be hired to guard the entrance to dungeons or intercept any other competing guilds who wish to contest the dungeon.

Other options are available to enterprising guild leaders who seize the opportunity to align itself with the interests of a major power bloc, thus securing themselves a stable source of contracts and potentially a node for itself to serve as a base of operations. To build further along this path, a nominally unaligned mercenary guild could also be employed as the vanguard in distracting an enemy’s forces as an alleged third party, throwing a wrench into the enemy’s deployment plans before launching an invasion.


Key Criteria for Successful Mercenary Guilds

Beyond the typical requirements for recruiting and retaining skilled PVP players, the aspiring mercenary guild must possess these qualities and staff for enduring success:

  • Disciplined force which travels light: Unless the mercenary guild has found a powerful sponsor with nodes to spare, there is typically nothing to go home to. Intrepid Studios promises Verra to be a large world, and contracts may call mercenaries to different ends of the world at any given time. Members must be active and on the same page with leadership on where they are deployed to, and what they are expected to bring with them. In order to facilitate smooth deployments, the mercenary guild must also have a
  • Capable logistics wing: Alexander the Great once described his logisticians as a humorless lot, for they knew if his campaign failed, they were the first ones he slew – and for good reason. PVP losses will result in lowered gear proficiency, and if a contract requires for mercenaries to get flagged as corrupted, gear loss is a very real risk. Replacing these losses is crucial for the continued success of a military campaign.
  • Diplomatic Corps: While it appears irrelevant at first blush, it must still be stressed that even if mercenary guilds are the means of a client to apply force on another client, to quote Carl von Clausewitz, “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means.” The application of hard power, no matter how harsh must always lead towards some kind of negotiation towards a political solution, which is ultimately up to the client. Offering the service of facilitating or even negotiating on the client’s behalf provides a value-added service to the client. Furthermore, enforcing a code of civility among PVP mercenary combatants is highly recommended in order to avoid ruining future relationships with the client’s target. Based on personal experience, civility is rare enough among PVP players, and being able to project an image of civility and “professionalism” will be remembered by friend and foe alike. Just as well, the enemies of today may become tomorrow’s clients.


Principles for Successful Mercenary Guilds

While “principles” and “mercenary” hardly sound like they belong in the same sentence in colloquial terms, what is going to be described below are suggested guidelines to be followed. Within the marketplace, even when it comes to the sale of force, a business lives and dies on the basis of its reputation. Growing and nurturing too odious a reputation will cause all but the most desperate and unreliable clients to approach it, and that is generally bad for business.

  • Apolitical and Non-Partisan Affiliation: This is unnecessary for mercenary guilds who have already found a power bloc to align with. As for the vast majority of mercenaries, this is the key principle to pay attention to: in order to put hard power for sale on the free market, the client must be assured of the guild’s intrinsic neutrality and will satisfy their contract to its fullest. Mercenary guilds which run afoul of this principle will be hard-pressed to find interested clients.
  • Resistance to Switching Sides Mid-Contract: Throughout history, mercenaries have been famous for switching over to the side which offers more money. While this definitely presents a short-term gain, in most circumstances this does not bode well for the long-term. A mercenary outfit which gains a reputation for cheating on its contract will swiftly find their proverbial rolodex of clients running empty in short order. Switching sides is only advisable when the guild is in an existential crisis (i.e. guild is at risk of losing substantial amount of assets in return for little gain) or if the client fails to make payments.


Suggestions for Clients in Hiring Mercenaries

As outlined in the previous section, clients require acute awareness of the inherent risks in hiring mercenaries to provide whatever services required of them. The most common and hazardous risk lies in the mercenary switching sides when simply offered a greater sum of money. The suggested approaches are:

  • Set a clearly-defined and attainable objective: This may seem to be common sense, but mistakes made in the real world show this is neglected even in high-stakes decisions. In the run-up to the Gulf War of the 1990s, the Powell Doctrine (named after then-General Colin Powell) was a list of questions which had to be answered with confidence before military action was taken. #2 of the list was, “Do we have a clear attainable objective?” Even though the Powell Doctrine was widely hailed as the gold standard used to redeem the US military from the past legacy of Korea and Vietnam, it was clearly ignored in the war of choice in Iraq on 2003.
  • Split payment up over regular time periods: Avoid paying for contracts upfront in one lump sum. If done so, there is nothing to stop mercenaries from simply leaving and not performing what they were paid for if they do not have a reputation to worry about. Better yet, set performance targets which are easily quantifiable (for example, destroy 40 freehold properties in a node per week) and offer bonus payment if performance targets are exceeded.
  • Pay them on time: Yet another obvious common sense factor, but past experience in EVE Online had cases of clients who may have paid for the first two weeks but defaulted from that time onward. This resulted in mercenaries swiftly performing “asset relocation” on their erstwhile client. The community of MMO mercenaries tend to be small, and word of mouth travels rapidly among them. Getting marked as an unreliable paymaster is the easiest way to exclude oneself from hiring desirable mercenaries.
  • Prepare for a diplomatic solution and exit strategy: To borrow from Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, “The purpose [of war] is never to… just be killing [the enemy]… but to make him do what you want him to do.” If mercenaries are hired, whether to do the killing for the client, supplement their capabilities, transport war materiel or making better PVPers out of guild members, they are not going to be at the client’s beck and call for perpetuity. Furthermore, success nor victory are never guaranteed. If the conflict/war is not proceeding well, even mercenaries can grow tired of losing and may switch sides abruptly. The client must have a keen nose for when is the appropriate time to sue for peace after objectives are achieved, or when to cut their losses before things get worse.


Potential Pitfalls in the Use of Mercenaries

The act of hiring another party to provide for one’s own security, to supplement it or support its functions in some capacity is never without disadvantages. There will always be tensions between the client’s security objectives, and the mercenary’s motive towards making more money. Whereas the mercenary may announce itself as an apolitical actor, and an agent of the client’s interests, this may not necessarily be the case. This is due to the primacy of judgement which has shifted from the client to the mercenary, who now gets to make decisions which are critical to the client’s security.

Suppose an alliance made up of multiple guilds wields sovereignty over multiple nodes, it may very well be considered a state in all but name. In Charles Tilly’s seminal article War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, Tilly underscored “the importance of the [state] authority’s monopoly of force. A tendency to monopolize the means of violence makes a government’s claim to provide protection, in either the comforting or the ominous sense of the word, more credible and more difficult to resist.” An alliance’s over-reliance on mercenaries to project power or defend itself will over time, dilute its authority over its own members and other dwellers in their nodes.

Worse still, the alliance that may lean too much on mercenaries to perform specific tasks may swiftly lose institutional memory of the how in performing said tasks in the future. Past experience in EVE Online demonstrated this in action where a regular client, Northern Coalition, was and is a powerhouse in fielding capital ships and frequently depended on Mercenary Coalition to provide support in sub-capital ships. Game mechanics dictate that capital ships are defenseless without sub-capital support, and there was such an over-dependence that Northern Coalition soon lost the capability to deploy sub-capital ships competently, leading to an enduring relationship at great expense to Northern Coalition and highly profitable to the mercenaries.

As the issues of incomplete information and monitoring typically accompany the act of outsourcing, there can be a lack of oversight and defined requirements. Mercenaries may be tempted to cut corners or overcharge clients, or worse still may not perform tasks the best they can. Mercenaries are incentivized to prolong their contracts for as much as possible, and to minimize risks to their own assets. All of the above may result in an unnecessarily protracted conflict: antithetical to the Powell Doctrine, which favors swift and short wars achieved with overwhelming force.

Introducing mercenaries into an ongoing conflict may also invite unintended consequences. When one thinks of the mercenary in recent times, the oft-used newspaper file photo of security contractors from the infamous Blackwater (now known as Academi) comes to mind. While academia and the press have covered the 21st century private military company as a relatively recent phenomenon, there is nothing new about the use of mercenaries. Mercenary armies shaped history by warfare, and in some very successful cases, shaped the history of humanity itself.

Dating from the Barbarian mercenaries of the Roman Empire, mercenary armies of 14th century Italian city-states and Swiss regiments under the employ of Napoleon, the case of 14th century Italy is particularly relevant. Machiavelli was known to have detested the idea of employing mercenaries, and he described his position in great detail in The Prince from chapter 12 onwards. The small Italian city-states had few natively-raised forces of their own, and mostly depended on well-organized mercenary armies to do the fighting for them. By keeping most of the plunder for themselves, the mercenaries used the new wealth to found their own noble houses, which led to forming more powerful states of their own. These new states became the patrons and progenitors of a storied age of Western discovery and art: the Renaissance. How this spread to the rest of Europe and led to greater levels of human flourishing is best left to historians.


Conclusion and Final Remarks

When Intrepid Studios remarked that players who controlled trade and the economy were likely to wield more power and influence than pure PVP players, it was not mere hyperbole. If the losses of warfare inflict painful and permanent consequences, unprepared PVP players may find themselves at the mercy of those who wield coin as their weapon. Even though large groups of players are bound to group themselves into tribes, claim territory, develop it and clash with each other to exert their will to power, it is only inevitable that some groups will emerge to hawk their hard power on the free market. On the other hand, “However, simply declaring players with the largest quantities of gold will win by paying others to fight their battles is also inaccurate – it still takes shrewdness and finesse to manage these soldiers of fortune. This reality raises new possibilities and dilemmas which are fascinating to observe in the years to come, and I look forward to further develop my understanding of this phenomenon.

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