Playing the General

A lot of fantasy, and a lot of good, popular fantasy, focuses on the individual and/or the small group. As we saw in Autumn’s post (here) there are many different archetypes that may be included in a small group of adventurers out to complete a quest.

But not every story focuses on this facet of the story. In fact, there are a bunch of Epic Fantasies that turn this around on its head by focusing on the “General” and the large group action.

Now, this character doesn’t necessarily have to be a “General”, a King, a High Lord, an Admiral, or even a somewhat lesser ranked official or officer, just as long as they have some level of authority.

What separates the General from the Singular Hero is their responsibility and how they handle it. Like the Small Group dynamic, there are different kinds of Generals. Some of them will overlap with aspects of the small group, but others won’t.

1. The Field Commander (Lead from the Rear)

tywinWhen looking at possible roles for a “General”, the Field Commander’s job is the most daunting. It is their responsibility to orchestrate and coordinate the movements of an entire army on the battlefield. It is the Field Commander that gathers reports from all parts of his/her army and moves each piece in the way he/she thinks will best suit his/her goals.

Field Commanders very nearly never get their hands dirty. They sit in their tents, reading reports and moving markers across a map, trying to see their enemy’s moves before they happen and shield their own motives against discovery.

In a non-military setting, the Field Commander would be seen as the person who sends the small party on their quest. They have something that needs to be in order for the rest of their plan to be successful and they accomplish this through a mission given to a willing party.

A good example of a Field Commander is Tywin Lannister, from A Song of Ice and Fire. Tywin is not the sort to ride valiantly into battle and seek out the enemy face-to-face. Instead, he schemes and coordinates, plans and executes.

A challenge in writing the Field Commander is that there typically isn’t a lot of action to be had when you’re sitting at the back of the battle, watching things unfold. I have a character in my upcoming novel who fits this role and it was a struggle sometimes finding things to maintain interest. Interpersonal stress with advisors and the mental weight of the role are good ways to maintain tension and interest when writing these characters.

2. The Tactician (Lead from the Front)

tacticianThe Tactician, on the other hand, is going to be down in the mess of battle or the mud of the trenches, risking his/her life for the cause. Whether its a drive for personal glory, or an attempt to rally his/her men in a time of desperation, the Tactician feels right at home among the rank and file of the army.

Tacticians have a lot in common with the Hero (from Autumn’s post). They dash into battle without concern for themselves and lead their soldiers right into the heart of the fight. It is in the frenzy that they are most useful and at their best. They can see the ebb and flow of battle with their own eyes and, if they can take time away from killing an enemy, can micro-manage their forces with incredible precision.

This role is much more common in a lot of fantasy because it can still focus on the individual while they play a larger role in the fight. Aragorn from Lord of the Rings; Jaime Lannister Robb Stark from ASoIaF, all fit this role. They’re generals, but they lead their men rather than direct them.

3. The Strategist (Lead from the Middle)

king_in_forestStrategists are a much different breed than the Tacticians. They may still find themselves in the heat of battle, but when they do it is because they choice to fight, rather than felt the need to. Where a tactician makes adjustments on the fly, manipulating the flow of battle as it happens, the Strategist has planned everything out and knows what needs to be done.

The Planner and the Strategist find themselves in very much the same role. Both will lay out what needs to be done and will direct their assets towards the completion of the task. Strategists are methodical about how they will complete their task, sometimes to a fault. If there is a downfall with being a Strategist, it is that every plan must be fluid, because not even the best laid plans entirely survive first contact with the enemy.

Tyrion Lannister is definitely a Strategist. He lays things out and then waits for them to come to fruition; sometimes he finds himself at the sharp end of a weapon.

4. The King/Queen in the Castle

queenThe King/Queen in the Castle is much like the Field Commander, but on an even more grand scale. He/She manages the war, or the overall mission in a less-militant setting. The Field Commanders report to the King/Queen in the Castle and take their orders from him/her.

The King/Queen in the Castle truly sees the world on an epic scale. They don’t see the faces of their enemies or their allies, they see pawns on the playing board.

Sauron from Lord of the Rings is a fantastic example of this role. He sits in his mountain, pulling strings and manipulating armies on a vast scale.


In nearly every story some of the roles are present. They may not earn more than a mention as a hero and his small group set out on their journery, but they’re there, leading the rest of the world while our protagonist garners all of the glory 😉

What other roles do you see “Generals” fitting?


2 comments on “Playing the General

  1. I love that you ‘bounced’ off my post, Joshua! 🙂 and I’m glad you did. Your post helped clarify one of my characters is a Strategist. And, as you know, knowing such details really helps write the story! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Archetypes, with a dash of numerology | Guild Of Dreams

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