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I encountered a certain problem while building my world, one that will affect how the story is written:

The protagonists never fight by themselves. There are always at least 15-60 military drones surrounding them.

The reasons can be best summed up as:

  1. Technological singularity renders humans useless.
  2. Humans transform the shape of their soul into a more compact form (soul stone), so they can fight along or against robots, even after five consecutive headshots, hence they can control their powered armor/drones through the stone.

So yep, one soul, multiple bodies, a whole new world of headaches for the writer. Because not only does the reader have to keep three to five unique types of drones in their mind, they also have to remember their location and what they'll be used for. This is a lot, even judging by my own, ridiculously high standards.

How can I make tactical battles with that many active participants easier to follow?


Update

Hence the Moravec paradox, drones have a hard time when not controlled by an at least human-level brain, alas, most of them are built in ways that require the least possible sensorimotor function (UAVs and Roombas). These are controlled through target designation and tactical movements.

Spider tanks, Dreadknights and Talos units, however, require the players to spend x amount of their own DX for controlling them, taking penalties on DX rolls, equivalent to the controlled unit's own DX. Some units (such as the spider tanks), can impose a natural DX penalty on top of that, due to their complexity.

TL; Dr: If it looks like your pet, you have to control it body-swap style, otherwise, it's like GURPS.

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  • Do you follow a specific POV, or can switch between individual participants at will?
    – Alexander
    Mar 20 '18 at 20:39
  • @Alexander They can assume control over multiple drones at the same time, coordinating them, if that's what you meant. Mar 20 '18 at 20:49
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    I am not sure how you treat your drones. If you treat them as individual characters, you can find many examples of platoon-sized group of protagonists engaged in a battle. If you treat them as "game pieces", you may describe the battle like you would a video game (with or without a first person view).
    – Alexander
    Mar 20 '18 at 20:59
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    Are the drones unique or are they more swarm like? Are you looking to emulate a drone similar to, say, Tau gun drones in 40k or are you looking at something more akin to a 'body hopping' style of control?
    – user18397
    Mar 21 '18 at 5:42
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    Personally, I find your TL;DR more confusing than clarifying, and I completely fail to see how it's related to your question at all.
    – user
    Apr 9 '18 at 11:22
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Zoom out!

What you are describing is not any different to a fight between armies. You want to focus on tactics and strategy, even as the individual using those 15-60 drones. A hive mind like that would not concern themselves with individual punches and kicks spread across their many bodies. They would concern themselves with how many they have lost, whether a side needs reinforcing and what condition they are in.

Read about military tactics. Focus on the squad, not the individual. You may wish to zoom in on a particularly dangerous exchange, or when the human soul is in jeopardy because their current unit is under attack.

The point is that you do not want to describe all of the drones or even all of the battle. Focus on the important parts and give an overall impression of how the combat is progressing, when lines break or resources are lost.

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Your problem isn't really any different from the situation every writer faces when they write scenes with multiple things going on at the same time.

As I see it, there are two approaches to this:

  1. Narrate from an omniscient (or pseudo-omniscient) perspective and slow done story time in relation to narrative time.

    Example:

    John took Peter's left arm at the same time that Roger took his right arm, while Frank quickly approached from behind and hit Peter over the head with the iron bar he had found back behind the house.

    I explicitly stated that events took place at the same time in this example ("at the same time", "(mean)while") and even insert a brief flashback ("had found"), but there are many other ways to signify coincidence or multitemporality.

    You can do this in first person narrative as well (what I call "pseudo-omniscient"), where the protagonist-narrator is aware of everything going on around him or her.

    Basically what you are doing here is a kind of slow-motion narrative that allows the reader to see more than he would be able to perceive at normal speed.

  2. Narrate only what a person would realistically be able to perceive

    When multiple things go on around us in real life, such as combat situations, we don't perceive all of it. You may have a protagonist with enhanced perception and mental processing power (then do no. 1), but any normal person will only see or hear part of what is going on, and a narration from their perspective should represent this limitation.

    Example:

    John took my arm and just as I turned to look at him I felt someone taking hold of my other arm, and before I could understand what it all meant there was a bright pain and then darkness.

    If your protagonist doen't know what the bots do while he is focussed on his own fighting, this is the approach I recommend. He may learn what went on from what other participants or observers tell him after the battle or from the recordings of the bots, and you can recount it in retrospect ("Back in the HQ I read the recordings of the bots and learned that ...") or you can insert it into the battle narrative ("Just as General Evil was about to shoot me, an arrow pierced his chest, and I later learned from the bots' recordings that My Sidekick had {done something that I hadn't seen}.").

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You might be interested in whole brain emulation. You might also want to look at stories containing body swap.

Speech patterns:

  • vocabulary habits: ending every sentence with "man". You could make vocabulary lists of certain words a character would use. About 20 re-occurring words for each character would be good, I think.
  • politeness: "If you'd be so kind to.." vs "Do this"
  • word volume: some characters are more open while others are more of the silent type. You can use less word or more words depending on which character is acting.
  • speaking volume: using exclamation marks.
  • speaking tempo: using more comma's or ... in sentences.

For the locations I would use internal thoughts or monologues. For instance, "Now I need to position robot A at position X then I can attack C from the back. No, man. I'm being stupid. I need robot B to attack C, robot A is much too far away."

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