Small Wars Journal

USAJFKSWCS Needs New Nerds: Dungeons and Dragons, SCI-FI/Fantasy Writers, and an Unconventional Way to Consider Irregular Warfare Training

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 6:43am

USAJFKSWCS Needs New Nerds: Dungeons and Dragons, SCI-FI/Fantasy Writers, and an Unconventional Way to Consider Irregular Warfare Training

Daniel Riggs

Author Note: The article would not have been possible without the assistance and inspiration of colleague and friend Charles Kennedy.

“You have to know why things happen.  Worldbuilding in essence is answering the question why (Reid, 2016).”

Welcome to Pineland: Chaos, Conflict, & Instability

For the uninitiated, the location providing the backdrop for the Special Forces (SF), Civil Affairs (CA), and Psychological Operations (PSYOP)[i] students is a country called Pineland.  Pineland is a fictional country on the fictional continent of Atlantica, which lies in the Atlantic halfway between North America and Europe.  The country possesses a basic history, system of government, multiple cultures, and other features constituting a facsimile of a country.  Pineland’s role is to serve as the environment for different ill-structured[ii] problem sets befalling the continent.  Ideally, training in Pineland should provide an assessment of the expected skills SF, CA, and PSYOP students possess once they arrive at their operational units and should establish a baseline for subsequent training efforts, regardless of ARSOF branch.  Unfortunately, Pineland (not the established training infrastructure[iii]) as a scenario is not up to the 21st century task of validating and training our SOF Soldiers for ill-structured problems faced in Irregular Warfare (IW) settings.  Pineland needs a reimagining of how it is constructed and executed.  This is supported by various student AARs and conversations with fellow Special Warfare Center and Schools (SWCS) cadre.  As witnessed from the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last two decades, it has become apparent that information and influence operations (IIO) are a key component for immediate and sustained success, not just bombs, bullets, and OPS-Core helmets.  Information and influence operations (IIO) are vital for victory.

Currently, there are no means to test IIO.  This is problematic.  Ill-structured problems in IW environments require successful IIO.  The number of enemy we killed in Vietnam and Afghanistan was impressive, but success eluded the US, because we could not message.  ARSOF needs to be able to train its students (and sustain those skills) to conduct IIO across all three ARSOF branches in order to be successful in IW.  It also needs to be able to test it.  How?  The following will recommend the need to re-write the Pineland Scenario by incorporating world building principles from science-fiction/fantasy writers, and to utilize gaming models and mechanics from Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), Recon, Powered by the Apocalypse, and Genysis to provide a more substantive and testable backdrop than previously provided.  In addition, the notable shortfalls in the Pineland material will be identified including the lack of depth, orientation, mechanics for testing IIO, and ultimately how to provide a solution. 

Pineland Overview

The country of Pineland is located on the continent Atlantica which lies 1,300 miles off the United States’ eastern coast, approximately mid-way between North America and Europe (Leohard 2013, Introduction).  This small continent’s size is approximately 616,067 square miles, which is a little less than a fifth of Australia or the combined sizes of Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.[iv]  In the scenario, there are four sovereign countries on the continent: the Republic of Columbia, the Republic of Appalachia, the United Provinces of Appalachia (UPA), and the Republic of Pineland.

For these exercises, the focus for students is the country of Pineland.  At the start of the exercise, a military coup has split Pineland in two.  Outside forces, including the neighboring UPA, have assisted the northern country, now called the Northern Pineland Province (NPP).  Students from each training pipeline are tasked to utilize the specific skills they have acquired to re-unite the country.  Most notably, SF students pair up with a local militia in order to provide training to conducts attacks and raids to weaken the NPP.  Within this Unconventional Warfare (UW) environment students need to find the means to assist a nascent resistance movement in toppling the NPP and restoring the Republic of Pineland.  The training is supposed to mimic a scenario Special Operations Forces could face in real life (e.g., Special Forces assistance to the Northern Alliance in 2001).    

The current iteration is remarkable in many ways.  Over the last six decades, Special Forces Soldiers and civilians have fashioned an impressive network of relationships and institutional knowledge[v] to run Pineland.  This is laudatory.  However, for Pineland to be relevant for the 21st century it should be re-tooled.  

Complication: Nor Depth, Nor Breadth

The first problem in the Pineland Scenario is the lack of depth.  The 157 pages of Atlantica: A Concise History is the primary text for students.  Presently this is a thin background piece but nothing to provide students a rough approximation of a country study.  In an IW environment problems are ill-structured and those tasked with solving the problem need to access every conceivable resource.  The thorough Special Operator will identify key insights from long standing culture, local grievances, and geo-political complications/opportunities in an attempt to comprehend (or at least mitigate) systemic problems.  US Soldiers can be successful in these ambiguous environments by understanding culture and the local issues.  It may be a platitude, but all politics is local.  One who can dominate at that level will be successful.  

For instance, one of the best case studies on IW was the success of Edward Lansdale defeating the Hukbalahap Insurgency during the early 1950s.  His success was not through bombs and bullets; it was brains.  Lansdale was a rabid student of Filipino culture, and he used it to his advantage.  He exploited vulnerabilities in target audiences by using the folk stories of the barrios, lore, myths, and taboos (Currey 1988, 101).  Lansdale utilized the “Eye of God” in villages causing villagers to distrust the rebels, broadcast false aerial messages about “friends in the rank”[vi] (Currey 1988, 101), painted night graffiti of the “Eye of God” in Huk camps, fostered rumor campaigns, employed a respected mystic to predict doom for the rebels, and re-enforced the belief of Aswangs (Filipino Vampire) among the enemy (Currey 1988, 102).  This combined psychological warfare campaign coupled with a simultaneous civil military effort led to Hukbalahop’s demise and irrelevance by 1954.  Lansdale was successful, because he understood that basic primordial cultural beliefs and superstition carry deep resonance.  Hukbalahap members were undoubtedly Marxists and rejected religion, but they still were frightened by the supernatural tales of the Aswangs told to them by their trusted Lolas and Lolos.  Successfu, IW campaigns address these cultural and psychological issues.   At present, Pineland unfortunately does not have a wealth of material that aspirational Lansdales could use to address culture and psychology.   

In its defense, Pineland is an appropriate setting for guerilla camps in isolation from the rest of the world; however, as we begin to face peer threats[vii] in the gray zone our future Special Operators need training in a scenario where they understand the necessity and implementation of IIO.  Students of all three ARSOF tribes need scenario based IIO training to understand the criticality of IIO and how their actions at the tactical level can make them the strategic private (e.g., US Soldiers’ actions at Abu Grahib) or the key to victory.  To get this training they need the tools to execute these tasks, which are currently unavailable.  Beyond the tactical level, the planning and reference documents inhibit planning and action due to a lack of depth, and a focus on facilitating maneuver operations.      

In case studies detailing irregular warfare scenarios the successful practitioners, as with the Lansdale example, leveraged symbols, intricate demographics, myth, tradition, and so forth to motivate and mobilize different target audiences.   The Pineland material is light on this.  However, these are the academic gems students and (later Special Operations personnel) require to make an impact in a contested IW scenario. 

The Creators

A sub question to this is did the right people write this material?  For example, if Wild Bill Donovan were looking for someone to re-write this scenario with the depth it needs, who would he choose?   Would OSS choose convention?  Based on a reading of the man, he would look for a gifted individual outside the orbit to give life to this new material.  After all, this is the man who hired wrestlers, marketers, outsiders, and oddities to fill the successful OSS ranks.   He knew that the most qualified were not ones who hit bureaucratic metrics of success.    

Why are these “nerds” better than the current ones?  This is not to detract from the academically minded and gifted, but this task requires a different mindset. Academics have experience in the task and the right cognitive orientation.  They understand how to weave and construct the worlds.   What follows is conjecture, but those who construct fictitious realms (and exhibit a competence in it) have a different mindset from a rigorous academic.  They are better at accessing the right brain than academics skilled in the left.  Fantastical world-building is not the work of an academic.  Academics build on pre-existing knowledge to further the discipline by adhering to tradition, the language of the discipline, and understanding that you are one in a long line.  It is a rigorous activity, but not one that is fit for creative world-building.  Contrary, world builders know and make the boundaries and the entire framework is theirs to shape.  It is not as derivative as an activity.

Consider JRR Tolkien.[viii]  Tolkien started with a single sentence:  “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”  From this single statement arose a universe replete with thousands of years of history, at least 16 languages, multiple races, a substantive metaphysics, mythology, and a logical geography.  The reader believes the words and appreciates the care and pruning Tolkien has perfected in Middle Earth.  As you turn each page You feel you are stepping into and living in Tolkien’s imagination.

It is a reach to expect a Tolkien-esque figure to emerge to re-write Pineland, but the requirement is for someone who can creatively build a new world based on world-building principles.  A formal academic or bureaucratic soldier does not possesses these traits.  There are a number of creators outside the DoD available for the task.  Consider past Hugo Award nominees for the project or any up and coming writers in science fiction or fantasy.  A short list of candidates might include Harry Turtledove, Vincent Baker, Dan Carlin, Larry Correia, and others.  Who better to create an authentic simulation that those who literally make their living inventing worlds?  These men and women could develop cultures, demographics, background, and situations to maximize the student experience while at SWCS by challenging them.  Their skillset is beyond anything currently found at SWCS.

At times historically large bureaucracies and corporations have had the foresight to understand their limitations and seek outsiders for assistance.   Consider the film Ford v Ferrari.  In it, the Ford Motor Company[ix] is attempting to increase car sales by expanding into chic muscle and sports cars and racing to capture the American youth demographic.  Lee Iacocca recognizes the personnel deficit at the Ford Company.  Ford would be unable to develop a suitable, let alone contending, sports car.  Iacocca initially seeks out boutique car maker Ferrari.  Instead of assistance, Ferrari slights Ford ownership and rejects the offer.  Undeterred, Iaococa again seeks outsiders to develop a vehicle.  The goal now is to beat Ferrari at Le Mans.  He turns ultimately to Shelby America.  Headed by racing legend Carroll Shelby and staffed with all types of outsiders (including driver Ken Miles and engineer Phil Remington who don’t fit corporate culture) they battle physics, time, and bureaucratic interference.  After setbacks and extensive beta-testing, their collective triumph comes in 1966 with Ford crushing all other competition at Les Mons, particularly powerhouse Ferrari.  The Driver Ken Miles sets the track record multiple times during the race.  The team’s success continues with a 4-peat at Le Mans.  They revolutionize the sport.  Ford critically recognized they did not know everything.  However, They sought out the outsiders to make it happen.   SWCS can and should do the same.         

World-Building Principles

A critique often heard from students and SWCS cadre is the inconsistency of the provided Pineland narrative which begs the question of world-building itself.   This is a notable flaw with Pineland as it fails to follow canonical world-building principles and dovetails off the creator question.  To students, Pineland feels manufactured and incomplete.  An ideal fictional world feels real.  Pineland needs world-building as defined below:

The process of constructing an imaginary world, sometimes associated with a whole fictional universe. The resulting world may be called a constructed world (or conworld). Developing an imaginary setting with coherent qualities such as a history, geography, and ecology is a key task for many science fiction or fantasy writers. Worldbuilding often involves the creation of maps, a backstory, and people for the world. Constructed worlds can enrich the backstory and history of fictional works, and it is not uncommon for authors to revise their constructed worlds while completing its associated work (Stableford 2004).

World-building means soundly and logically creating the tapestry for the story.  It serves as the means to tell the subsequent narrative.  In essence Pineland, or any other conflict zone, provides a foundation for a series of intertwining stories with themes, conflicts, characters, and actions capturing and maintaining the attention of the student.

The foundation for the world must start from a logical and stable point.  In the introduction to A Concise History of Atlantica “existing scenario themes” (Leohard 2013, Preface) frame and construct the continent of Atlantica.  This is not how to construct a world and build consistency.  It has to be structurally sound to begin with.  The reason for this world building is if you first establish history, geography, and everything else you understand what kind of people live in it and the actions and every other activity within it therefore become logical.  It is not an artificial smattering of different ethnicities, beliefs, and cultural identities.    Because of this faulty foundation the students frequently report via numerous After Action Reviews Pineland didn’t feel real.  Fundamentally, a created “world requires authenticity, must feel real, and readers (in this case students) need to feel like they can step into the story and live there” (Reid 2016).  The physical setting in North Carolina is not the problem; the gaps in the narrative are. 

One such gap is the neighboring countries Appalachia and Columbia.  What are their allegiances, interests, motivations, activities within this conflict?  Our experience with Afghanistan should inform us neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran have an interest in what goes on inside their neighbor’s borders.  They are vital considerations.  No conflict is going to happen in a vacuum with tightly controlled, contiguous physical borders.  Efforts are required to develop these Atlantica countries and what they want in this conflict.     

From a literary and structural perspective we need to specifically identify the problems.  According to noted science fiction novelist Charlie Anders’ seven notable errors can occur within worldbuilding.  Pineland hits three of these.  The first is the creation of real-life versions of real-life human groups that never go beyond one dimension (Anders 2013).  According to Anders, this is a problem for many worlds (Anders 2013), not just Pineland.  If there are a multitude of cultural or ethnic groups (which there are in Pineland) they require multiple dimensions and a sense of their own members, their own subjectivity, and a believable culture (Anders 2013).  Students interact with groups in Pineland who come across as autonomous.  There is little division between them.  Whether it is Djiboutian, rural white Christians, Spanish, Russians (for some reason), or others that are notable for their corporate identity (as Max Weber[x] would describe it).   As difficult as it is, the world-builder still needs to make them well-rounded and nuanced as possible (Anders 2013).        

Another is the creation of monolithic social, political, cultural, and religious groups (Anders 2013).  As noted earlier with Pineland’s neighboring countries, Pineland itself is a monolith.  Consider the United States.  Would anyone honestly think that there is one singular culture and set of political and ethical orientations?  There are at least two cultures, and at this point there may be more.  As noted by Anders, three members of a particular group will probably provide you four different opinions on their own group’s major concerns (Anders 2013).  Even within Catholicism, (to outsiders, a monolith), there are so many divisions and rivalries engendering incredible disagreement (e.g. traditional v. new mass) and conflict.            

The third notable flaw in Pineland is a history that is totally logical (Anders 2013).  Pineland was developed in a lab where the history is logical (though directly mimicking the US).  However, history is full of odd quirks, mysteries, and events.  “Why did the Portuguese have their own colony in India until 1961” (Anders 2013), how were the pyramids built, why are certain byzantine systems of succession around, and so forth.  History is replete with contradiction and oddity.  Without a sense of the absurd “it will never pass the smell test” (Anders 2013).   Pineland requires the same amount of rigorous attention and detail as Middle Earth, Westeros, or other fictitious worlds.


World-building should transport the reader or player to a new world with new cultures and force them to begin to understand and evaluate new cultural norms, hierarchies, and philosophies.  This is an admirable goal.  Pineland on the other hand, exists as a barely disguised version of the American Experience.  It’s supplied with Native Americans, early European settlers, a recent experience with slavery, a liberal-conservative split, and generally the same assumptions for the governed life.  There is even a governing constitution similar to the one the American Framers created in 1789.  Why is this problematic?  

When we ask our Special Operations personnel to engage with foreign populations the idea is they are prepared to be immersed and available to understand them.  This is something beyond differences in clothing, food, and accent.  We can’t take basic ethical, political, scientific, and metaphysical assumptions for granted.  For example, on deployment to Afghanistan a colleague noticed when he was asking for his Afghan colleagues to count up the number of a people in the area they kept bringing back triple the number.  The problem was that they don’t conceive of arithmetic in the same way we do in the West.  What if a-priori objective truths (i.e., mathematics) fail to match up?  What if a population fails to perceive time in the same way we do?  We should prepare students for these stark differences.

Consider the difference between races in Star Wars and Star Trek.  The public intellectual Michael Malice has discussed his distaste for the Star Trek television show and early movies due to their conception of aliens (Rogan 2020).  When the USS enterprise crew encountered new species it was simply a different hue of humanoid dimensions.  A Klingon was a guy with apparently bad plastic surgery and too much time in the tanning booth.  In contrast, when the audience enters the Mos Eisley cantina in Star Wars, they leave our ecological preconceptions behind, as the beings in the film don’t match anything we have on earth.  Those who have travelled to Afghanistan understand it is more Mos Eisley than the Klingon capital Qo’noS.     

The chance of Special Operators being in an environment anathema to our own should be the expectation.  We need to look at providing a cultural experience forcing students into intense ambiguity and struggle.   They are not going to be encountering Western style people.  Most likely it will be a group of people they will have trouble understanding.  

How can you test influence and information activities in a training environment and the constructed world? 

What matters most in examining Pineland is whether it provides the proper avenue for the learning outcomes USAJFKSWCS desires?  For CA and PSYOP students this dovetails into one of Pineland’s core issues: how can you test IIO?  This is PSYOP’s and CA’s bread and butter, though it is just as important for SF.  In other Army tasks we can train and test it.  Take marksmanship for example.  It becomes easy to test the shooter’s skill by providing a set target and distance.  With a properly calibrated rifle, the subsequent shooting should be reflective of the shooter’s relative skill based on marksmanship fundamentals.  In addition, this is something repeatable and allows for variable control (e.g., wind).  How do you do this when you are asking your soldiers to influence target audiences and decision makers?    

The “three tribes” are cognizant they require a means to influence and inform select target audiences for success, especially in a UW scenario.  Students need to transmit radio messages, conduct civil military operations, and other key outputs necessary for success in any IW struggle.  Asserting you are underlying your effort with a perfunctory, check the box “robust IIO campaign” is inadequate.  And even with students generating thoughtful and creative solutions how do we test this? Claiming a deception or influence activity should work, because it meets doctrinal intent is one way; however, are we sure the effort was effective?      

For example, if a student is testing their messages on a (fictional) target audience’s behavior, how do we know if it works?  Did the target audience surrender, vote, strike, mobilize, attack, report, etc.? The student may have conducted excellent analysis and understand key distribution and dissemination means, but there are no mechanisms, due to the Smith-Mundt Act[xi], to test non-kinetic effects.  This becomes a hand-wave from a cadre member with a perfunctory “seems like it will work”, and more negatively the cadre can treat it like Calvin Ball.[xii]  This is something to improve upon with a means for evaluation. 

Two-Pronged Solution        

As stated earlier, Pineland requires world-building architects (i.e., science fiction and fantasy writers) to provide inputs to Atlantica to shore it up.  They have asked fundamental questions requisite for world-building:

  • What type of game do we want to run and initial world establishment? (Dungeon Masters Guide 2014, 9)
  • How do I know what details to include in the story? (Reid, 2016)
  • How do the settlements facilitate the story of the campaign (Dungeon Master’s Guide 2014, 14)
  • When it comes to culture, which laws and norms in one culture are reviled by another? Which are envied? (Kieffer 2015)
  • Can you feel like you could step into the story and live there? (Reid 2016)
  • And innumerable others science fiction/fantasy authors ask prior to and upon introduction of new peoples and concepts
  • Most criticality, they have asked the fundamental question: which method?  Understanding which method to use is a key start for Pineland. 

When it comes to world-building two methods stand out: Top-Down (aka Outside-In) and Bottom-Up (Inside-Out).  Top down creates a general overview of the world, determining broad characteristics such as the worlds’ inhabitants, technology level, major geographic features, climate and history (Wikipedia) and then adding to those essentials with increased and integrated detail.  As stated by one science fiction writer top down “means considering economic weirdness because the locusts were bad three years ago and how that affects spice trade, or the distance between countries and the travel time required” (Reid, 2016).  This is a time-consuming process, but one yielding a fuller, grounded, and more connected world.   Everything logically flows and the foundation is firmly established. 

In contrast Bottom-Up (Inside-Out) focusses on a small part of the world, and this small part of it is provided extensive design and detail.  This starts from a few characters, a few functions, or a few metaphysical rules.  For example, “if you are writing a story about a group who can control time, understand the limits and abilities of those people's time-bending powers, and consider how their powers affect their cultures, religions, government and technologies, and so on” (Kieffer 2015).  Everything springs from those central ideas and it populates from there.  The one thing both methods share is the requirement to answer the question “why” (Reid 2016).  A reimagining of Pineland should look at following one of these models as a starting point with a science fiction/fantasy writer of some clout steering the effort. 

A pseudo third method is available: reconstruction.  This might be appropriate as both CA and PSYOP have implemented their own additions into Pineland making the scenario unwieldy.  Pineland may not be going anywhere, so reform in key areas is an option.[xiii]   The best example of reconstruction is the DC Universe’s Crisis on Infinite Earths.

The background on this saga is the following:  For decades, DC comics had allowed their artists and writers to do as they pleased with little logical thought for the character’s location in the greater space of the DC universe.  This resulted in confusion and inconsistencies frequently plaguing the DC Universe (Friedenthal, 2012) and made them ripe for criticism from devoted fans.  Efforts in creating a multiverse to adjust for the lack of continuity made the work inaccessible to many.   DC understood a solution was needed.  Enter Marv Wolfman and George Perez.  The two creators undertook the task of establishing continuity and logically placing the multiverse of DC into a single, coherent universe (Morrison 2011, 215).  The DC universe’s narrative and metaphysics were reset gradually over a year through elaborate storytelling (Friedenthal 2012).  The confusing multiverse was ended.  It was destruction, but creative destruction.  It brought lasting change to DC Comics from a narrative point of view, and heralded even further reaching changes for the comic book industry and fan community (Friedenthal 2012).  In one way it can be thought of as a literary controlled burn. 

This episode illustrates current Pineland can be maintained.  Crisis on Infinite Earths shows an example of how to “fix it in flight”, so to speak.  We don’t need the Anti-monitor, but a hired “Anti-monitor” would come in and prune the material to fit to the specifications for what SWCS and the students need for a broad and deep 21st century Pineland.    


The second part of this solution is to find a means for evaluating hard to measure IIO action.  As stated earlier, this judgement defaults to the cadre.  Cadre should have some say to avoid allowing for the tyranny of numbers, but they require supplementation.  Instead of creating from scratch there exists a model for this: Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). 

The gaming system has a series of weighting and probabilities through the roll of dice to assess an action’s viability.  The rolls determine the attacks, a spell’s efficacy, a non-playable character’s actions, a magical item’s power, etc.  While it is true there aren’t goblins and dragons and supernatural beings in Pineland, D&D has developed a way to test influence-based actions.  This is the key takeaway from D&D.  In the first pages of Chapter 1 of The Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) it introduces how to test non-kinetic effects with the concept of renown.  Renown is an optional rule within traditional game play, and it is a means to track a specific characters’ standing within a particular faction or organization (Dungeon Master’s Guide 2014, 22).  The value starts at zero (i.e. no standing) and can elevate past zero (or sink back to zero) based on the player’s actions.    Shrewdly, the game separately tracks each player’s respective standing with different organizations.  This means earned renown with organization A does not mean the player possesses the same standing with organization B.  Consequently, the actions gaining renown for a player with organization A may in fact cause a loss of renown with organization B.  D&D allows for the dynamisms and conflict often apparent between groups. 

The other noteworthy activity (specific and relatable to IIO) from the DMG is sowing rumors.  Sowing rumors is a means to conduct an action where kinetic action is foolish, costly, or unnecessary.  The success of sowing rumors will “increase the subject’s standing within a community or embroil someone in scandal” (Dungeon Master’s Guide 2014, 131).  The DMG understand rumors “can be an effective way to bring down a villain or elevate a friend” (Dungeon Master’s Guide 2014, 131).  The rule accounts for and weighs variables considered necessary for successful messaging.  These include repetition of the message, cost, and size of the area to influence, and finally be accountable for a dice role to see if the action was successful (Dungeons Master’s Guide, 2014, 131).   Most critically the DMG understands even a message’s success isn’t going to reach and convince everyone within a given setting.  There will still be individuals holding to their own opinions after the messaging especially if they experience with the subject of the rumor (Dungeon Master’s Guide 2014, 131).  This hearkens back to UW doctrine regarding support.  Within the general population, there will always be an active minority opposed to your efforts (TC 18-01 2011, 1-4).

The point of using this model is to remove the cadre’s subjectivity and leave it up to chance to some degree.  But what could possibly be more authentic?  A critic may say this model is not chance, but chaos.  But as the Joker said in The Dark Knight “you know the thing about this kind of chaos is it is fair” (Dark Knight).  It does not discriminate.  


For Pineland to come alive and deliver the dynamism students should receive requires creativity beyond the Pentagon and the Ivy Leagues.  This submission is not intended to be the final word on this.  This is a question, or a series of questions to be considered.  I look forward to a robust, conversation with others to transform the way we train influence, and transform ARSOF more broadly.   Others far smarter than me will arrive at the solutions with the ultimate goal of a well-designed world that seems to flow around the participants so they feel a part of something, instead of apart from it (Reid 2016). 

Our rivals (China, Russia, Islamic fundamentalists) reside in societies bereft of free expression.  Creativity is stunted in autocratic societies.  Because ideas are (supposedly) freely exchanged here, the ones with the most merit win.  Ingenuity that flows from freedom of expression will always be America's trump card.


Anders, Charlie Jane. (02 August, 2013).  “7 Deadly Sins of World-Building.” Gizmodo. Retrieved from

Calvinball (2007, March 28) Retriverd 20 January 2020 from the Wikidot wiki:[]

Chernin, Peter, Mangold, James, & Jenno Topping (Producers) Mangold, James (Director) (2019) Ford v Ferrari [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

Curey, Cecil, B. (1988) Edward Lansdale: The Unquiet American.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin CO.

Dungeon Master’s Guide 5th Edition. (2014) Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast.

Friedenthal, Andrew J. (2012) Monitoring the Past: DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths and the Narrativization of Comic Book History. ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies. 6.2 (English Department, University of Florida). Retrieved 29 December 2019.

Kieffer, Kristen (2015, 02 April).  An Introduction to World Building. Well Storied.  Retrieved from

Leohard, Robert R. (2013) Atlantica A Concise History.  EDs. Daubon, Dru and Mike Deane Laurel, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory National Security Analysis Department.

Morrison, Grant. (2011) New Gods.  New York, NY: Spiegel and Grau.

Nolan, Christopher, Roven, Charles, and Emma Thomas (Producers) Nolan, Jonathan (Director). (2008) Dark Knight [Motion Picture]. United States: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Reid, Ruthane. (2019, October 06). World Building 101?  The Write Practice. Retrieved from

Rogan, Joe.  (Producer) (2020, January 07).  The Joe Rogan Experience # 1407: Michael Malice. Retrieved from

United States of America Department of Defense. (2015). Army Techniques Publications 5-0.1 Army Design Methodology.  Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

United States of America Department of Defense (2011). Training Circular 18-01.  Special Forces Unconventional Warfare. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.  

Worldbuilding. (n.d.)  Wikipedia.  Retrieved August 10, 2019.

End Notes

[i] These are the three Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) Military Occupational Specialties.  The “three tribes” is their colloquial name.   

[ii] When referring to ill-structured problem sets I am referring to the definition provided in Army Design Methodology (ATP 3-05.1) pages 4-1 and 4-2: “Ill-structured problems are those leaders have difficulty agreeing on problem structure and will have to agree on a shared hypothesis.  In developing a solution leaders will disagree on how the problem can be solved, the most desirable end state, whether the end state can be attained.  To execute a solution success requires learning to perfect technique and to adjust to the solution and continuously refine understanding of the problem.  Adaptive iteration is required to refine problem structure and solutions.  Examples of an ill-structured problems include systematic poverty, resistance, insurgency, etc.” 

[iii] The work, coordination, sustained relationships, and institutional knowledge the Robin Sage cadre possess is second to none in USAJFKSWCS. The problem again is not personnel or “beans and bullets” efforts.  

[iv] This is literally the dimensions of Atlantica. 

[v] This institutional knowledge is in reference to execution and materials given. 

[vi] Helicopter messages broadcast over Huk camps containing partial truths that were meant to sow dischord in the ranks.  This is the classic prisoner dilemma enacted upon a military element and was successful because it leveraged both superstition and rationality to split the guerilla unity.   

[vii] China is a peer threat, not near peer threat. 

[viii] Academic by training but these story telling and world-building skills were developed before university.

[ix] When large is used it is the appropriate designator.  There were 20 layers of bureaucracy between the plant floor and the CEO office at Ford. 

[x] Essentially this is an identity where your core being is assigned to one orientation instead of many.

[xi] This act prohibits targeting US populations through any kind of influence efforts

[xii] From the comic strip Calvin and Hobbs, Calvinball is a game that you never play the same way twice. Anyone can add a rule, and not all parties must agree for a change to be implemented.  Score is kept in an unusual alpha-numeric configuration, one example could be 27-ka blooy! to 12teen&blarg (Calvinball).

[xiii] This paper is not advocating for a total elimination of Pineland.  It can be rehabilitated

About the Author(s)

Sergeant First Class Daniel Riggs serves as the S-3/5 for the Psychological Operations Courses at USAJFKSWCS in Fort Bragg, NC.   SFC Riggs has previously completed Psychological Operations deployments to INDOPACOM and CENTCOM. He holds a M.S.c in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Los Angeles.  Before joining Psychological Operations, he served as an Infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division deploying to Afghanistan in 2010. 



Fri, 09/24/2021 - 7:32am

We are committed to providing our clients with exceptional solutions while offering web design and development services, graphic design services, organic SEO services, social media services, digital marketing services, server management services and Graphic Design Company in USA.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 3:59pm

As a proud graduate of Pineland University I appreciate my education there more and more as years go by. Sure there are a lot of improvements that can be made (and SOF personnel (and specifically SF soldiers can be extremely self critical) but I would not trade my experience there for any other in the military. Although we did not use the terms in this way back then I think it was where we really begin to learn the essence of the two "SOF trinities:" Irregular Warfare, Unconventional Warfare and SOF support to Political Warfare."  The second trinity is the relative comparative advantage that SOF brings to national security: "governance, influence, and support to indigenous populations and forces."


I applaud the author for his aggressive critique and attempt to frame some creative and innovative recommendations to improve the Pineland curriculum and experience.  I am of course partial to the Philippines/Lansdale recommendation as well as the nod to Wild Bill Donovan and the OSS (after all SOF selection programs are a direct legacy from the OSS selection process (Assessment of Men - you can download the 564 page book here: . And I am most proud that this was written by an NCO in the SOF community.  I do not know him but based on this article I think he represents the vast majority of SOF NCOs with whom I have served.  After all as T.E. Lawrence said, Irregular Warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 02/01/2020 - 3:57pm

As a proud graduate of Pineland University I appreciate my education there more and more as years go by. Sure there are a lot of improvements that can be made (and SOF personnel (and specifically SF soldiers can be extremely self critical) but I would not trade my experience there for any other in the military. Although we did not use the terms in this way back then I think it was where we really begin to learn the essence of the two "SOF trinities:" Irregular Warfare, Unconventional Warfare and SOF support to Political Warfare."  The second trinity is the relative comparative advantage that SOF brings to national security: "governance, influence, and support to indigenous populations and forces."

I applaud the author for his aggressive critique and attempt to frame some creative and innovative recommendations to improve the Pineland curriculum and experience.  I am of course partial to the Philippines/Lansdale recommendation as well as the nod to Wild Bill Donovan and the OSS (after all SOF selection programs are a direct legacy from the OSS selection process (Assessment of Men - you can download the 564 page book here: . And I am most proud that this was written by an NCO in the SOF community.  I do not know him but based on this article I think he represents the vast majority of SOF NCOs with whom I have served.  After all as T.E. Lawrence said, Irregular Warfare is far more intellectual than a bayonet charge.