Ever-Wandering Souls (commonly known simply as Souls), has been playing NationStates (NS) for 7 years. During that time, he served on the Council of Hawks for almost 5 years, which manages the raider military, The Black Hawks (TBH), eventually ascending to the title of General.
He ranked sixth in the Power20 edition for July 2019 for the role he played in bringing about the Anti-Pacific Coalition (APC) in the war against the New Pacific Order (NPO), as well as for his presence in the ‘Red Phone’ Leaks that attempted to subvert the Coalition of The South Pacific (TSP) in 2017 and 2018. Today, February 23, Souls steps back from his position on the Council of Hawks and moves to the Council Advisory Board. I sat down with Souls to reflect on his time in NationStates and the world of raiding.
Wymondham: Firstly can you give our readers a brief summary of your time on NationStates?
Souls: Presumably you want the version that doesn’t take an hour or more. In that case:
• Born in TSP
• Banned from TSP during MiloCoup for being part of the RMB resistance
• Invited to Black Mesa Islands by one Johto and Kanto
• There, I first joined regional nation roleplay, then went to II, and eventually ended up in P2TM; I also met a bunch of cool people in that era, among them Vandoosa
• Needed NS to be more time consuming (no joke) one winter
• Saw a post in Gameplay
• Joined the Eternal Knights
• Mostly taught myself about Gameplay
• Quit the Eternal Knights about a month after some of my friends did
• Went to The Brotherhood of Malice
• The Brotherhood of Malice died
• Joined my old region-mates in Sicarius
• Eventually, Sicarius self-destructed after being politically forced into a corner by whichever of Rifty’s regions was in vogue at the time
• Joined TBH at Jakker’s invitation
• Returned to The Brotherhood of Malice when it was alive for the time
• Was invited to be a member of the TBH Council in 2015, and promoted to Lieutenant then
• Gradually rose to be a General of TBH over time
• Re-familiarized myself with some of the roleplay world, and joined Madhouse Productions at the behest of my good friends Swith and Cer, where I would meet many others
• Somewhere in there, became a Security Council author, wrote a few guides, became the maintainer of a NationStates forum pin, the works
• Am now old and busy, and semi-retiring from active duty in TBH
That covers the gist, I think?
Wymondham: That’s the short version?
Souls: I suppose I should also mention that I’m a regular in The Rejected Realms (TRR), had a solid stint as a specialty card collector, owned The Black Riders (TBR) for a few weeks, participated in a few events to familiarize roleplayers with gameplay, am NS-married to the all-famous Yuno, and once designed a flag and World Factbook Entry for a feeder as a Valentine’s gift to her.
Wymondham: Why did you accept Jakker’s invitation to join TBH and why did he invite you?
Souls: I accepted because TBH was more my speed and style than TBR, and I’d much enjoyed their company more – as small as it was, when I joined. I grew up in Gameplay being sneaky, stealthy, and so forth, as well as fairly casual, and TBR was loudy, flashy, and particularly militaristic. The Black Hawks were also coming out of a bit of a rut, and I saw it as a place I could advance and shine, particularly. As for why Jakker invited me? I presume he’d either say he saw something in me, or that he needed any able body and I was a lucky guess. You’d have to ask him though!
Wymondham: Did you ever have any regrets about joining TBH?
Souls: Nope! While I miss some things of the past, TBH has been a place I’ve been entirely happy to call home for the past half decade or so. Missing elements of the past or what could have been will always be a think [sic], but coming to TBH was the best choice, and the right one, and I wholeheartedly am glad I did.
Wymondham: What has been your proudest moment in TBH?
Souls: I’ve had too many to single one out, sorry. Though, generically, I’m pretty damn proud of everything that others have put in, now and in the years leading up to now, to get the region to a place where I feel almost comfortable stepping back.
Wymondham: Has there ever been a time in TBH where you have perhaps been disappointed?
Souls: Plenty – at others in TBH, at others outside of TBH, at myself. These are moments that can trigger growth and improvement though. You can’t reach the summit if there are no mountains, and you can’t get back up for another round if you never fall down.
Wymondham: How would you say TBH has changed since you joined?
Souls: It’s a lot bigger! In every conceivable way. More members, more diverse members, bigger role in Gameplay as a whole, bigger records we’ve set, and so forth. We’ve kept up with the changing of the times where others have now, and grown through and from it.
Wymondham: And how would you say raider/defence (R/D) gameplay as a whole has changed since you joined NS?
Souls: The landscape of the game is always changing. The winners are those who keep up with it. Whatever ‘it’ is this week/month/year. Anyone stuck in 2010, whether it’s tactics, mechanics, or acceptable conduct, is out of place. A million things have changed. Core mechanical features of R/D, which regions are big or nonexistent, how centralized things are. Waves of fashion have come and gone. You stick around long enough and you play three or four different games, here.
It’s easy to unequivocally say something has gotten better or worse, but sometimes it’s really just different and strange to you. Part of why I’m stepping back a bit in TBH is that more and more I feel like a dinosaur, a creature of another era, too stuck on how things used to be. I want to see what players younger than I do with a much lighter advising touch from me.
Wymondham: Obviously TBH has a far more strict scripts policy than any other organisation. Do you think TBH will eventually need to change this policy so as to keep up with others?
Souls: Nope. We’ve done just fine with it. More than that, it’s somewhat of a rarity – though it was also a Council decision, especially the details, it was originally an order on high from Red Back himself. That sort of disaster can never be allowed again. It is a matter of safety and of ensuring the continued existence of TBH. Our review process, and cultural shyness from higher levels of automation, may keep things a little more ‘old fashioned’, but we have no shortage of ways to win, and tactics always beat tools in the grand scale.
Plus, keeping things more down to earth and approachable is often helpful for breeding understanding, participation, and new ideas, as compared to trying to load newcomers up with tools, and greatly reduces reliance on any one script or player. Many things in TBH are designed around not having a single point of failure, when possible. About the organisation being sustainable into the future, from Council downwards, the absence, retirement, or defection of any one player should never be more than a particularly bumpy road bump in the path of the region at large.
Wymondham: What would you consider the highlight of your raiding career?
Souls: I’ll always be proud of the overkill infiltration of native-controlled TBR. That was particularly elegantly executed. I’ll never forget when, in the Sicarius era, I missed a target in an operation I was leading, left the nation in the region, and woke up after minor to find that others had run a mission at minor to secure it for me. I believe that was Islam, a region I had a lot of fun designing fancy World Factbook Entries for, beating down a Security Council liberation from by co-authoring it, and eventually surrendering to another organisation when Sicarius closed down.
But perhaps it was another region. I’ve had some favorite moments of ‘spreadsheetery’ – clearing regions like Illuminati in a matter of days, after months of planning. There was that time that, I think it was Wetwork and I, but maybe others, RMB roleplayed an entire TBR invasion we had piled for, down to every single ejection, in a series of space battles and planetary bombardments. There have been great defenses, refounds of foundered regions, numerically winning a pile-off against a feeder and friends (with some friends of our own), a million and one things. It’s hard for any one of these to stand out as a highlight.
Most of my moments stem from operations, because as above, those have long been my bread and butter, but I’ve also had endeavors like Operation Streaker, or helping further the childhood of the modern strategy to crush Security Council resolutions via raids. Widely stated, any time I get to be a part of something either new or particularly well executed is a good time.
Wymondham: If you could bring back any raider you have worked with that has left the game. Who would they be and why?
Souls: Yeesh. No matter how I answer, someone is being let down! My first instincts are a bunch of folks I love and miss that have all moved on for very good reasons, and bringing them back would be very unkind to them!
Wymondham: So, firstly in this line of questioning, can you summarise for our readers how the first failed raid on St Abbadon came about?
Souls: There was the three-way fight between Augustin Alliance (AA), The Grey Wardens (TGW), and the NPO that ended with TGW siding with the NPO, and the NPO controlling it, at Topid’s expense. There were a series of events between TBH and the NPO that led to us deciding enough was enough, time to embarrass them however we could. That led to the big pile-off in St Abbadon after a regretful miss, that the anti-NPO side was ahead on when Kitsco came online just before the update. Leaving out quite a few details.
If the interest is in that series of events, the short version is that the NPO repeatedly ran against, infiltrated, spied on, and spoke against TBH, and continued to do so after several diplomatic negotiations and promises otherwise, to the point that TBH decided to teach them a little lesson about underestimating us ‘userites’ with the power of a lot of allies, but we were the ones with the guts to take the combat to the field.
A lot of that would be blamed, contemporaneously and ex post facto alike, on Pergamon going rouge, but even if you believe that, it was only with the wilful negligence of those above him at the time, who had been repeatedly informed of his actions in TBH and elsewhere, and chose to leave him with enough power to do it again and again. Others may color the story quite differently though!
Wymondham: How does one go about organising such a top secret operation?
Souls: OPSEC is always hard – but striking where it is unexpected, whether by your own planning or the opponent’s folly, is perhaps less hard than it seems. Run raiding operations on a need-to-know basis as much as possible. It pains me to even inform allies of the target ahead of time when not absolutely necessary. Trusting that we would not choose anything offensive to their conditions of engagement, as expressed to us, is usually preferable. In that sense, I am particularly old-fashioned.
Many organisations left standing today are ‘picky’ or otherwise tentative partners, if often for justifiable reasons, compared to pure raider collaboration of old. There are military demands that are not politically expedient. In that sense, secrecy is not what it once was. Speed, force, and trickery are often sufficient instead.
Though, after those gathered are necessarily told the target, it’s always presumed to be somewhat of an open secret. There will always be spies; the question is whether they deem the target worthy of moving into fast enough to blow their cover and trigger a leak hunt. Because we always hunt the spies that let themselves start to feel invincible enough to act without caution.
Wymondham: What techniques does TBH use when spy hunting?
Souls: “And also, by the way, what’s your next op target?” Nice try, fendas!
Wymondham: What was your aim with the APC-NPO war?
Souls: Without being too much of a Council leak, I’ll reiterate above – at the absolute least, it was unacceptable to continue to allow the NPO to walk all over us, not apologize but promise it wouldn’t happen again, and then do it again. It became unacceptable after we went through that cycle twice. It was necessary to instill a lesson about when the patience of the “most feared military organisation in NationStates” has been ground to a nub. In that sense, the goal seems to have been achieved, for now.
There were other discussions. The rhetoric as a whole, the growing involvement in liberations against TBH without formal opposition, diplomatic efforts against us, some I won’t mention. But at the core, TBH is proud. Pride has long been a part of our identity. Pride in our region, our identity, our work. And pride demands respect, whether as friend or as foe.
Wymondham: If you could give some advice to someone just starting raiding on NS, what would it be?
Souls: Never be fully satisfied. Don’t let the lack of satisfaction degrade what you have accomplished but the hunger for more, for better, for what’s next? The absolute hunger to be better, bigger, new, proud, to win? That is what drives new ideas, clean execution, continuous improvement. Have fun while doing it too, always. If it’s not fun, others will quit, and you will too. Fun and un-satisfaction are not mutually exclusive. You can be enjoying yourself and still want next time to be cleaner, cooler, something new. But doing things exactly as someone else is, listening to the mobs? That’s not how you get to the top. You get there by being proud, and being hungry. By never being fully satisfied.
Wymondham: What do you want to do after stepping back from TBH in a full time capacity?Souls: I want to embrace my role as a Council Advisor, guiding from the sidelines, and making sure my years of knowledge are accessible. I want to see what great things the region continues to achieve freed from me. I want to get back into roleplay, maybe. I wouldn’t mind finally earning my own resolution, and writing a few more. I still want to revamp the MilGP guide, when the worth ethic strikes me to do so. Maybe I’ll finally actually run for a position in TRR now? Whatever it is, I myself, am still not fully satisfied.