Monday, 7 February 2011

Sepoy Memories

A friend of mine drew a blog entry to my attention recently. He’d notice someone was writing about Indian Mutiny* wargames and said he was using the “delightful” Sepoy rules.

I have a lot of affection for these rules. They’re based upon Pete Berry’s excellent and ground breaking “File Leader”. They were the first rules I ever read and played with that filled the gap between skirmish wargaming and full on battles. They’re ideal for games with say 600 – 1200 men aside in a formal era where battalion structure and proper command and control is important.

I have been interested in the Indian Mutiny for quite a few years. I read all of the Flashman books, but was most taken by Flashman in the Great Game, which I read just before I went to university. I broadened out my reading and became particularly interested in the campaign lead by Sir Henry Havelock to relieve Lucknow. I was struck by a number of things,, particularly the small size of the armies involved.

I bought and painted Mutiny armies for both sides, using the Minifig 25mm range on a scale of 1:50, then went off and to find some rules. None of the rules then available would work, - they simply required armies that were too bog in order to make them work. I had a few goes of my own and ran a session on wargaming the Mutiny at a WD conference in the early 80s where I had a serious disagreement with Phil Barker over the effective range and relative importance of the Enfield Rifle.

Out of those discussions I started to develop a role playing style game with system controlled natives and then discovered that Howard Whitehouse had got there first with the Mahdist Wars and “Science vs Pluck”. I did a quick adaptation based on them which seemed to work, but in many ways the game wasn’t very satisfactory. By this stage I’d decided to increase my figure collection and now could field Havelock’s forces at 1:20 ratio or similar. I also commenced on constructing a lot of Mutiny period buildings including a scale model of the Lucknow Residency. I used these to run a participation game for WD called “Siege of Delhi” which did a few shows, notably Sheffield Triples.

And then in 1988 Pete published “File Leader”. I got to know Pete whilst at University and we collaborated on his first set of ECW rules, “Forlorn Hope”. Pete was excited (as much as a Yorkshire man ever gets excited) about FL, and when I played them I could see why. It didn’t take long to realise they were the perfect platform for Havelock’s campaign to relive Lucknow. We exchanged a bit of correspondence and I agreed that I’d write an adaptation for the Mutiny, and that they'd be published by Partisan Press.

The working title was Havelock. The development was done with my then regular Friday night opponents, deep in someone’s basement. My recollection is that it didn’t take that long to get the game system right although we all hated the melee system but I didn’t feel that I could change such a core part of the rules. If I was doing it now, I probably would.

I had strong views on the poor production quality of a lot of rule sets at that time. I didn’t want glossy pictures, but I did want the rules to be clear and well laid out, using a readable font in a proper size and written in a form of the English language we can all understand. So I was meticulous in working through the layout with page numbers and headings and so on. The illustrations were provided by a wargaming friend ("Dormouse") who is still one of the Monday Night Group. We sat for an evening combing through the text and reference materials to try and find anything we could hang a joke off. I remember how difficult it was to squeeze that one off evening in. I had a very young family at the time and a (fairly) new job. The Dormouse was setting up his own business and there was no internet to help us discuss what we wanted to do.

I submitted the rules to Dave Ryan complete with an elegant, stylised cover. He contacted me as he didn't like the name on the grounds that Havelock was a type of hat. I explained that anyone who knew the period wouldn't be confused, but he was insistent. I tentatively suggested Sepoy, which Dave accepted. So I went off to my PC to do a careful search & replace. Took quite a few evenings over it, only to discover that Dave had gone to press anyway with a cover of his own design. He'd Tippexed out the page headings and but blithely ignored the introduction and other places that referred to "Havelock".

It has been remarked that the game isn't awfully well balanced. I'd accept that, but I reckon its a good game and a good simulation. The Brits have to be bold and well handled, and it is easy to create a scenario where they can overreach themselves.

We don't play them anymore and I'm fairly sure they were never a big seller. It's been over 15 years since publication and the original print run has never sold out. I got a small amount of royalties-in-kind at first, but then nothing. We had a lot of fun developing them and in the games we played with them shortly after publication. However I've moved on to other projects and there's always other games to play and write up. I'm afraid I tend to work on a period, get the rules how I want them then move on. It is almost like I've solved the problem and so it no longer interests me.

Nowadays such variants are probably more likely to appear on the internet in a handy downloadable pdf.

So that's what I remember of it all. Perhaps I'll get the figures out and we'll have another go this summer.


* I know that it is becoming fashionable to refer to it as a "rebellion" or a "revolt" or "nationalist uprising" but the way I see it the conflict broke out amongst soldiers who rose up and murdered their officers. Whatever their motivation, that's a mutiny however you look at it.

14 comments:

  1. Enjoyed reading how "Sepoy" came about. Again, thanks for a great set of rules.

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  2. You're welcome. It was fun going back over some of my old stuff. Msyber pictures of my - rather primitive - figures at the weekend.

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  3. That was a very interesting post, personally I've never played or even read the rules, but it was great to here the story of how they came to be, thanks for that.
    Ray

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  4. Go on, buy a set. You won't regret it.

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  5. Always good see the rules from the writer's view!
    Bought the Sepoy rules last year and hope to give them a go in the coming months.
    I have concerns over the Close Combat mechanics,
    to much math. Did you ever note down any alternate methods of melee.
    Thanks
    Mike

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  6. There seem to be a lot of sums in the fisticuffs rules, but they work. You just need to jot the scores down as you go.

    I experimented with a number of chnages after publication but never got it right, so I stick with the version in the book which is based on the original File Leader.

    Hope you enjoy them.

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  7. Hey Trebian,
    Played the Sepoy rules today with the club
    and had a great time.
    I'm rereading the rules at the moment to clarify
    a few points. Would you mind if I sent a few questions your way?
    Thanks
    Mike

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  8. Please ask away....although I might not be able to answer them all straight off. It's been a while since I wrote them.

    Glad you had a great time. What was the officer death count like?

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  9. A bit of postomancy on my part, but I've just purchased Sepoy and was very interested in reading how they came about. Great post and I look forward to many a good game with these rules.

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    1. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy! I have a lot of affection for then & should play them more often than I do. As they enter their 21st year it is good to see someone, somewhere, is still buying them.

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  10. Hey Trebian,been a few years but I dusted off my Mutiny figs and am going to run the game again this Saturday. What table size do you recommend for 25mm?

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    1. Ha ha! Good question....it's been a while. My figures are 25mm as well, and we mainly played on a 6'x4' table, IIRC, but for big games we went up to an 8'x 5'.

      Hope you have a good game. If you write it up on a blog somewhere I'd love to read about it.

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  11. Very interesting to read of the development of the rules. Have you read Saul David's take on the Mutiny? If not, and if you are so inclined, do so - I think it will chime with your impression of "Englands Epic!"

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    1. I haven't bought anything new on the Mutiny for a long, long, time. Saul David's book is tempting. I keep waiting to see it in my local second hand shop for a couple of quid.

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