Sunday, 29 July 2012

Just Des(s)erts (1)

The Monday Night Group has a core of players who meet regularly (mostly) but over our nearly 20 years' history some members have come and gone but are still around. This summer one of our occasional members is getting married (one of the four Grahams the group boasted at one point) so we agreed to mark the event with some stag events.

In the absence of anything to watch on the TV we decided to play Science v Pluck on Friday evening. This was chosen mainly because we like it, but also because the impending groom has a penchant for role playing games.

SvP is one of those games we play from time to time. I love it, - without doubt it is the best way to wargame the Egyptian & Sudanese campaigns and battles of the late 19th Century. The downside is it takes a fair amount of preparation and thought as an umpire to get the scenario right and to ensure you all have an enjoyable evening. This means we don't play it all that often, and I have to re-learn the rules every time we play. In fact, I think it has been two years since our last foray into the desert.

For this evening's entertainment I decided to run a game around General Graham's forces in Suakin, following a mythical reinforcement of the forces in the port and given a much more aggressive approach to the Suakin operation by HMG.

The importance of such games is to get your playters in the right roles and try to ensure they each have enough to keep each of them occupied and engaged in the evening's entertainment.

I had five players, and set the British forces up like this:

The force is under the command of Maj-Gen Sir Archibald Erskine-May, KCB

1st Brigade:
Brigadier The Honourable Percy McGringle
1st Bn Dumfries Highlanders
1st Bn Rutland Fusiliers
2nd Bn Borsetshire Regiment

2nd Brigade
Lt Colonel Barty Knowles
1st Bn West Flint Light Infantry
2nd Bn  South Wold Regiment
1st  Bn  Somerset Fusiliers

Cavalry Brigade
Colonel Harry Masterley
Westminster Yeomanry (three squadrons)
Rothesay Lancers (three squadrons)

Artillery Support
Major Findlay Harrison
1 battery, RHA (6 x 9pdrs)
1 battery Gardner guns (6 guns, manned by Naval Brigade) Lt Ashley Green, HMS Havoc (NPC)

HQ resources:
1 Company Royal Engineers – Capt William Stokes (NPC)
Mr Carlton Edwards,  Political Officer & "friends" (NPC)

Regimental baggage, including extra ammunition, food and tents. Water trailers and water. Heliograph section, Telegraph wagon, canvass water tanks. (NB Since we last played I have acquired a lot more wagons and camels to provide support to the British as they struggle through the desert in a square with limnited interior space.

The two NPCs are there to enable the Umpire to give advice on engineering matters, - such as laying out zaribas. The Political Officer can give advice on what the locals are likely to do. 

Having decided on the size of the forces I worked out some personal character sheets. I do two of these for each character, - one for the player himself, and a "Pen Portrait" to describe him to the other players. No one sees their own Pen Portrait.

So for this game we had:

Maj-Gen Sir Archibald Erskine-May, KCB
One of Wolseley's “ring” of scientific soldiers you have been given an independent command to prove what proper soldiering is like to the less professional officers. Related by marriage to the well known constitutional theorist you are well connected, if not actually nobility as such.

You are a large, physical man with a very direct approach to issues. Not a noted thinker, you can still hold you own in an argument. No one has ever questioned your personal bravery, and whilst  admired some may find you a bit stand-offish. You have extensive campaigning experience and no one has ever questioned that you are in charge.

Brigadier the Honourable Percy McGringle
A doyen of the Ayrshire McGringles you have the pure blood of Scottish nobility coursing through your veins. Smart & intelligent you have excelled in your career so far and will eventually make a fine catch for a well connected heiress. As long as everyone overlooks your slightly diminutive stature. Some would say compensating for this may account for your ambitious nature.

You have a noble, yet not rash, temperament which makes you popular in the mess. Extensive campaigning with Highland regiments around the world has made you a fighting officer.

Colonel Harry Masterley
“What Ho Chaps, I mean What Ho!! Marvellous to be out here doin' one's bit for Queen & Country. Course it's not like soldierin' in Mayfair, - bit dustier and hotrer, eh? Great thing to be out here with such top chaps, fightin' the fuzzy wuzzy. Followin' in Pater's footsteps only he wasn't in Africa much either (Crimea, - Light Brigade, don't cha know?

After all this is the ultimate test for a manly man, ain't it? It's all very well bein' able to ride all day and knock some rough on his back with one punch but it's up against cold steel that counts.

Don't expect to be found wantin', eh?”

Lt Colonel Barty Knowles
The son of a country parson your military career hasn't been the easiest. In fact it has been a hard slog whilst younger, more well connected, men have moved past you. At last you have been given a chance as you have previously been seconded to the Egyptian Army so your command here results partly from that and also the unexpected illness of the previous brigade commander. Alas your Egyptian Army experience was in Cairo and the delta, so the deserts of the Sudan are a bit of a mystery to you.

The parsonage upbringing means you are no stranger to books, so might be thought of as a thinking man's soldier. Your keenness in the military arts makes you someone people turn to for advice, if not promotion. You have a reputation for being a steady man in a crisis. All of this makes you well liked and respected in the mess. The young chaps sometimes even call you “Daddy Knowles” as a sign of affection.

Major Lord Findlay Harrison, RA
As the third son of the Duke of Handsworth you could have joined a fashionable Regiment, but preferred instead to join the Artillery, and make the most of your ability to blow stuff up. At School (Eton) you excelled at the modern sciences and was one of the brightest of your year, this, allied with your robust physique made you a good all rounder. You are a diligent officer, but sometimes pettifogging detail gets you down a bit. What you want is to be dashing to the front with your guns, engaging the enemy at the closest possible range. The modern artillery man is what puts the wind up the natives these days. These characteristics make you the darling of the mess, and this isn't entirely down to you being a member of the nobility.
Your campaigning experience is limited, - it may be due to the Army not wanting to expose a distant cousin of the Queen to danger, so here is your chance.

Just to round it all off you are also a very fine horseman. Your only weakness is your affinity for the bottle, but mostly people haven't noticed as you have a remarkable ability to be able to stand upright.

The Pen Portraits, together with the allocated players were as below. You'll notice that how people see themselves differs slightly from how others do.

Maj-Gen Sir Archibald Erskine-May, KCB (Mr Graham Hockley)
Well connected, both to Wolseley’s ring and socially. Large man, known for physical courage and leading from the front. Has a reserved manner and thinks good order and discipline comes from not being overly familiar with subordinates. At least that’ how it seems from outside.

Brigadier the Honourable Percy McGringle (Mr Graham Sargeant)
A doyen of the Ayrshire. Smart & intelligent with an excellent career record so far. Linked socially with a number of well-connected heiresses. Not the tallest of men, noted for his ambition and noble, yet not rash, temperament. Popular in the mess. Extensive campaigning with Highland regiments around the world has lead to a reputation as a fighting officer.

Lt Colonel Barty Knowles (Mr William Whyler)
The son of a country parson and  no stranger to books, so might be thought of as a thinking man's soldier. Someone people turn to for advice, if not promotion. Career path has been long , but not stellar. Younger, more well connected men have moved past him. However luck may have turned his way as he has moved into this position as a result of illness to the appointed commander and a commission in the Egyptian Army. Steady man in a crisis. Well-liked and respected in the mess. The young chaps sometimes even call him “Daddy Knowles” as a sign of affection.

Colonel Harry Masterley (Mr Philip Steele)
A fine Cavalry Officer, from a family of cavalry men. Father was in the Crimea and survived the “Charge”. Reputation for bravery and taking direct action, but with limited field experience. Well regarded amongst elite Regiments for having all the right characteristics.

Major Lord Findlay Harrison, RA (Mr Christopher Ager)
Third son of the Duke of Handsworth remarkably chose to join the Artillery rather than a fashionable regiment. Known to be exceptionally bright, but with a robust physique means he is a good all-rounder. A good horseman, and surprisingly aggressive and dashing for a gunner. Popular in the mess, but campaigning experience is limited. Also a very fine horseman. Alas all of this can be easily overlooked when he has had one or two too many, which happens a little too often for comfort.

Lt Ashley Green, HMS Havoc (NPC)
Typical tar. Thinks the Navy can solve anything. Seems to respect Harrison.

Captain William Stokes, RE (NPC)
Older than other officers of the same rank in infantry regiments. Confident and technically competent. Not pushy and takes direction well. Not at all well connected and knows his place.

 That'll do for now. I'll post up the scenario in my next blog then get on with describing the action.


  1. Interesting, sir. I'm not familiar with this rule set although I've seen references to it. I'd like to see how the "role-playing" works into it . . . so I look forward to your further posts.

    -- Jeff

    1. Jeff,

      If you do not have a copy you should buy one this instant from .

      The rule books are a mine of really good information on Victorian Armies and the Sudan, Everyone should have a copy even if they aren't intending to play it.

      The role playing is as much as the players and umpire want it to be. You are role playing officers commanding units so there's no need for "personal stats" but there is an emphasis on "playing in character", - so cavalry officers need to be dashing, etc.