Friday, 28 June 2019

Who's Up For A Trip 'Round The Lighthouse?

Having given you all a weeks notice I hope you've managed to get your sea legs sorted out in time for todays trip 'round the bay. For those who didn't think it necessary to make the effort, nurse will be along shortly with some sea sickness tablets and a glass of water.

Sorry, what's that? 

Yes Jonathan you can wear a lifejacket if you absolutely must! 


Okay good. Come up here on the poop deck, (Lee! Stop sniggering at the back there) for it's time to breathe in the salt laden air, feel the warmth of the sun on our faces and listen to the playful slap of the crystal blue waves against the hull of the "Salamander" as Captain Tully and I take her out on a bit of a shakedown cruise.

Oh wait a mo… I suppose before we actually weigh anchor I should shatter the carefully cultivated atmos by covering a few of the game essentials first.

Captain Tully needs to produce four cargo's of booty a quarter for his EIC backers in Sumatra and is technically not a pirate since he has been issued with a Letter of Marque to prey on Dutch shipping. For game purposes he will sail once a month and encounter a randomised number of vessels during that monthly voyage. Clearly there needs to be a sensible ceiling on the number of ships he may encounter and to that end I have finally found a use for my 1D4.

Ooh a'int she lovely

Thankfully it's the 21st century and hopefully without people getting all "judgey" I can reveal that I'm a bit of a dice fetishist. I probably need to go to a self help group - or maybe some back alley "dice" clubs or something. The stranger they are the more I love them. What's a guy to do?

Dammit I've gone off topic. Okay, yes 1D4. So four is the maximum number of vessels the Salamander will encounter per trip, however given the size of the ocean and the figure rolled, the number of encounters will need a bit more finessing than that. A 1 & 2 presents no problems and will be played with all ships on the table and the turn will last the month. A 3 result will split the month into 2 parts and will be played against 1 and then 2 ships. A 4 will also see the month split into two parts and an encounter with two separate sets of two ships. Any damage taken by Tully's ship will carry over until he can reach home port and effect a repair. Capische? The ships encountered will be drawn randomly from my ship data cards and to mix things up a bit some will be out hunting for booty themselves and some will be in ballast only - i.e. carrying no nick-able cargo.

As you can see from the piccie above, the first encounter will be with two ships whose data cards look like this:

The "Gouden Gans" or Golden Goose in English is worth 50 points if captured and 25 if subsequently  sold by Tully. She is a merchant ship with a crew quality of 3 and a combat rating of 2. Her other attributes are Galleon Rigged (which means she will sail faster or slower depending on the wind direction), Razee (she's of a design that makes her sail a little faster by having reduced any unnecessary height and weight during her construction), Yare (means she can turn on a pin - i.e. twice during her move), Shallow Draft (enables her to cross areas of shallow water without fear of grounding), Merchantman (reduces her combat ability but in a mercantile campaign increases the amount of cargo she can carry around) and finally the Fiddler (a handsome young lad who's a hot violinist. His tunes, accompanied by a decent shanty or two, will get the men working more efficiently - and in game terms allows the re roll of a single failed action dice).

The second vessel drawn was this one:

The "Wapen Van Delft" or Weapon of Delft if you prefer is a different kettle of fish entirely. First and foremost she's a warship - a fact reflected in her points value, fighting potential, and special abilities. With Chaser Guns (allowing her to also fire fore and aft), Trained Gun Crews and even a Master Gunner she's a difficult ship to overcome in a straight up firefight. On the minus side she has a deep draft and could become grounded if she enters any shallows.

Okay back to the Salamander. It's September 1652 and the monsoon winds are blowing north easterly. We're now 150 nautical miles due west of Ko Rah Mi island and Captain Tully is amusing himself up on the poop deck by chucking balls of pang khao mahk (gobbets of yeast used in rice wine making) into the air for the trailing sea birds to swoop down and catch*. Suddenly the lookout shouts "Sail ho!"and in response Tully drags the brass and leather perspective glass from the folds of his long green coat.

Focussing on the direction indicated by the lookout he espies an easy looking prize and turns to see that all work has stopped and all eyes are on him:

The Gouden Gans

Ordering the helm hard over the Salamander rolls as she turns to port on an intercept course. Tully's few European officers smile and the the mixed crew of Bengali, Tamils and Malaysians cheer at the prospect of an easy target. With any luck Tully's schooner will catch the merchant before it can find some sort of positional advantage around the small island that is even now growing larger on the horizon.

What Tully hasn't seen though yet…is this:

The Wapen van Delft - with the Gouden Gans way off in the background.

The "Wapen Van Delft" is busy taking on water from a stream coursing down the islands precipitous flank. The Captain, Bernard Fokke (real person, so stow that smirk, sailor) has discretely locked himself in his day cabin along with the cabin boy, in order to take care of some erm…important paperwork, yes that's it, paperwork. For the purposes of what is to come her sails have been furled and she's anchored lying head into the wind.

Over on the Gouden Gans, its elderly Captain Pieter Van Rijn is sitting on a specially made stool and tapping his good foot to the sick beats stirring tune his fiddler is bashing out. Suddenly the look out, who frankly must have been asleep at his post, gives a cry of alarm. The fiddler puts down his bow and the men on the deck shield their eyes as they search to starboard. With a curse Van Rijn climbs to his feet and steadying himself against the coaming needs no ocular assistance to see the gaff rigged schooner closing on an intercept course.

Captain Van Rijn - from a contemporary engraving. Not.

NB. I'll explain some of the rules as we go along, and I'll do it, as is usual for me, in blue italics. I'll try to keep it to a minimum. Feel free to skip these sections if you couldn't give a hoot about why stuff is happening.

Once the ships and any terrain have been placed on the map board there is a simple 1D6 roll for who gets the initiative. The Gouden Gans needs to get off the opposite corner of the map in order to automatically end the game. The Salamander won the initiative roll and got to move first. Using the Wind Gauge I determined that she was running with the wind, which, since she is galleon rigged, allowed her to make a medium length move. 

My home made wind gauge. The red arrow show the direction of the wind relative to the main game compass. The bow of the ship shows which movement rate her sail plan will then produce.

Now I assumed captain Tully would want to get as near as he could to his target as fast as he could so to do that I need to change direction and go a little faster. To perform these actions I needed to roll a dice and equal or beat the Salamander's crew quality rating of 2. I rolled the three die 6 issued to every vessel and got a 1 a 4 and a 2 so I failed with one but still had enough actions points to order "come about" (i.e. change heading), and "steady as she goes" which allows a razee vessel to make one additional small distance move.

Another home made doohickey - the come about  / change heading template

Van Rijn felt a cold hand on his heart at the sight of the schooner for his ship's defences were slight, and in his hold were thousands of silver guilders that the Directors' of the VOC needed to purchase fine silks and porcelain from the Chinese. Determined to try and outrun the interloper he ordered more sail and in an effort to bolster the worried faces of his crew he told them to run out and ready the starboard guns. To his experienced eye, the distance seemed too great, but a show of defiant preparedness had been known to put opponents off before and was definitely worth a go.

The Gouden Gans lets rip.

Now it was Van Rijn's turn to roll his action dice. He managed a 5, 3 and a 1 against his vessels quality rating of 2, so he failed one and secured two action points. The Gouden Gans was running "close hauled" to the wind and would normally cover a medium distance. Captain Van Rijn spent one of his action points increasing speed by a further 1 short distance (using the razee trait) and his other point firing off a single brass cannon at the Salamander. The gun combat follows an uncontroversial formula of ship combat value plus a 1D6 roll, plus or minus a series of range and quality modifiers. Both firer and target make the same roll and compare values, the difference between the outcomes determining any damage caused. Deciding to fire at long range and knowing that the rules would be most unlikely to produce a decent outcome might have seemed daft, but on Van Rijn's behalf I was trying to be clever since the pre written scenario rules stated that the nearby (and friendly) Wapen Van Delft would remain in its semi dormant posture until the crew heard cannon fire. Incidentally the Fiddler trait was used in order to re roll the failed 1 but all he produced was another 1 - oh and of course some more "bangin' choons" as I believe the kids say these days.

Van Rijn was not pleased that the shot they'd fired had merely disturbed the waves but he was pleased at the way his ship had picked up speed and was making far better headway.

On the nearby Wapen Van Delft a dishevelled Captain Fokke dashed out on to the quarter deck to see what was going on. Confirming that he'd heard cannon fire and not distant thunder he continued  buttoning up his shirt and gave the order to get under way at once. Jolly boats were ordered to shore, sails were partially unfurled and the anchor raised.

Unfortunately for old Fokke his three dice produced a 4,4 and a 6 and though they all passed the Q rating of his ship it would take two actions to raise the anchor before he had to confront the problem of the frigates heading. When the Wapen Van Delft began to lower her sails to move she found she was "In Irons" a sailing term indicating that the sails which normally caught the wind to push the vessel along were now receiving the wind head on, denying any forward movement at all. Thinking to change his ship's facing to escape the problem he used his remaining action point to "come about", but since the sails on the ship had not been fully unfurled the vessel merely crept a short distance away from the island. All that would have been fine but for the roll of the two 4's. The roll of a double causes a change in the wind direction and in this case it meant that the frigate was once again facing directly into the wind and would be in trouble again at the start of its next turn.

Captain Tully laughed at the merchantman's pathetic single shot, which plunged into the briny several cable lengths astern. Waiting patiently until they were close enough he gave the order to fire a full broadside from his own port side cannons. The sweating crew gave fire in a ragged undisciplined volley, two of the balls eliciting a fountain of splintered timber from their targets hull.

The Salamander gives it the beans.

The Salamander rolled a 2, 3 and 3 so three passes but yet another wind direction change! It should be noted that it only changes by one compass point each time - but it does seem to happen a lot. The solution may be found in some home brew mods that the good Kaptain Kobald sent me, so we'll see. 1 activation was used to convert a medium distance move into a long distance move via the ships razee trait and two activations were used to fire a full broadside. Tully wanted a good result - but not too good a result since a sunken cargo was of no use to anyone.

On the Gouden Gans the 1st mate helped lift Captain Van Rijn back onto his feet and began issuing urgent orders to the bosun to assess the damage. The news was not good. A dozen crewman lay dead or dying around the base of the foremast and a lucky shot had smashed through the hull right on the waterline. The pumps were quickly manned but there would be no time to effect further repairs.

The Salamander managed to double the score of the Gouden Gans in the broadside roll off which caused 1 point of damage and a roll on the critical hits table. The critical hit turned out to be a hole in the hull which could have been worse but the 1 point of damage causes one of the three white dice to be exchanged for a red dice. The red dice can be rolled like the white dice to generate an action but when the red dice rolls a 1 (and it seems to happen more often than you'd think) further (bad) consequences ensue. The beauty of this simple system is that it forces non gamblers like me to agonise about every die roll. How many actions do I really need? Should I risk rolling the red die at all? Once all white dice are replaced with red the vessel is crippled - of which more later. Action points can be spent to make repairs and reduce the number of red dice during the game, but the number may not be reduced below 1 red dice unless the vessel is between games and in port. The thing I like the most is that the ship and the crew are viewed as a single entity - damage to one does not occur without damage to the other. There is a lot to be said for the elegance of simplicity.

NB - one of the problems with a new game and no opponent is that you can misinterpret the rules or just make a plain mistake - without challenge or correction. It transpires that the critical hits table need not be consulted until a vessel is crippled (has 3 red dice) and is forced by combat to take a further one. I only discovered my error while typing the scenario up but thankfully neither affected ship really suffered from the mistake - and a lesson was learned.

The big old goose might have been hit but she was far from finished. Continuing to move at speed towards the island she found herself crossing the bow of the oncoming Salamander, in an ideal position to launch a broadside of her own. Every one of the three cannon on her starboard flank belched smoke and the shots raked through the Salamander from stem to stern as the merchantman flew past her opponent and left the schooner in her wake.

A raking broadside from the Dutchee. The transparent kidney shaped terrain in the background is an area of shallows.

The Wapen Van Delft was still struggling to manoeuvre out of the lea of the island, much to the fury of Captain Fokke, (gotta love that name) and so far was unable to determine who was shooting at whom. On board the Salamander there was a terrible rending crash that was felt throughout the ship as the Gouden Gans' broad side struck home. Three shots hit the schooner, one passing through the main sail, one ripping away the anchor and the last punching a hole through the hull just below the bow. Miraculously none of the crew were hurt but the pumps had to be manned continually from here on in to prevent the vessel from foundering. Cursing and thumping the taffrail in fury Captain Tully ignored the caution expressed by the pumps crew chief and ordered the Salamander to give chase.

The raking broadside was at close range and could have done way more damage than it did. The Salamander got its own red dice and a similar critical hit to the Dutchee (holed below the waterline) - which we now know was applied in error.

For the Salamander worse was to come. Tully's shouted orders to turn to starboard were misheard by the man on the tiller** who began a turn to port until the Captain grabbed him by the throat (with his good hand) and pushed him out of the way. Correcting the man's mistake was easy enough but they'd lost ground to the other vessel and now had some catching up to do. In impotent fury Tully ordered the one gun that might still be able to bear on the target to fire, but the shot when it came was made as the  schooner was still heeling over and an obvious water spout revealed that the ball had fallen no where near.

Three dice were rolled, two white and one red. The red came up as a 1 (told you it happens). The red "1" result forces a roll on the Galleys and Galleons "all at sea table" and on this occasion produced probably one of the more minor outcomes - a misheard order.

The Gouden Gans was busy trying to make good its escape and needed every ounce of speed it could muster. Van Rijn prayed that the wind would not falter while his more than capable bosun urged the crew to greater efforts by waving a billy club about a bit.

Again three dice including the red one were rolled since Van Rijn needed every action point he could get. Two white 4's and a red 2 meant one failure but nothing that required an "all at sea roll". The Fiddler cannot re roll red dice fails so once again all he could offer the Captain was a shift in tempo and a broken string. The two white die 4's shifted the wind again by one point, which did no harm to the Gouden Gans but served to mess up the Wapen Van Delft progress once more.

The Salamander was slowly gaining on the merchantman, running before the wind at quite a clip. Giving up on his crews poor shooting Captain Tully ordered his eager Bengali's to dig out the grappling irons and boarding axes.

I only rolled the two white dice for Tully, since I didn't want to take the risk of another mishap with the red and only needed the one action point to use the schooner's razee trait to squeeze a tad more movement out of her.

Finally the two ships closed sufficiently enough for members of the schooner's crew to throw grappling irons onto the merchantman's stern rail.

As this was taking place the Wapen van Delft finally got her act together and limped around the headland into view.

Captain Fokke arrives on the scene.

Sizing up the situation in a flash the frigate's captain realised he was too far away to intervene and as the ships positions stood he could not risk firing on an apparent pirate when his shots might hit an obviously Dutch ship as well.

With schooner and merchantman locked together the Salamander's boarding party swarmed over the side and using the medium of sharp pointy things set about trying to subdue the opposing crew.

The boarding action occurs in a similar fashion to gunnery - but with different modifiers. The Salamander beat the Gouden Gans in the boarding action roll off but did not double the Dutch ships score so the merchantman received 1 damage (swapping a second white dice for a red one) while eventually expelling its unwelcome visitors… for the moment. 

It should be noted that the Dutch ship, during its turn, did not roll enough action points to actually cut the grapples (2 required) and escape.

The unexpected appearance of a friendly frigate, now lowering sail and picking up speed towards them could not prevent a second boarding action by the Salamander's Bengali's whose blood was now well and truly up. Unfortunately for Van Rijn the approaching frigate was of no practical help in removing the kris from under his chin and reluctantly he signalled his men to surrender before more blood was shed.

The Salamander rolled all it's dice and got three successes. This allowed Tully to use "seize the initiative" for 1 point along with a 2 point boarding action. The Gouden Gans struck its colours and its remaining crew were herded below decks and shackled.

NB. Another mistake and another post write up lesson learned. The Gouden Gans would now have 3 red dice as a result of the damage caused by the boarding action, but not in excess of the 3 and therefore did not need to consult the critical damage table and may not have struck her colours which was the rolled for result. Doh.

The Gouden Gans strikes its colours. As you can see the world is patently flat and it is more than  possible to sail off the edge.

The schooners crew could see the frigate bearing down on them and formed a bucket line to toss sack after sack of silver coins onto the deck of the Salamander. Anxious to secure the merchantman for onward sale Captain Tully sent his first mate Nathaniel Sprigg and a small prize crew to take control of her.

I free styled a bit here making Tully pay two action points to transfer the silver  - something that doesn't seem to be covered in the rules and one point to send over a prize crew. Note the dispatch of the prize crew caused a second red dice to be applied to the schooner - since the vessel and men are considered as one and its future performance would no doubt suffer through their absence.

As soon as the prize crew got on board they cut the grapples and got the newly captured merchantman under way. Swinging to port she made her way around the island with a view to keeping out of the frigates gun range. For his part Captain Tully made the most of the Salamander's manoeuvrability and effectively reversed course; heading directly for the shallows he knew the frigate would not attempt to cross, except under duress.

Tully needn't have worried. The distance between his ship and the frigate grew quickly; the bigger vessel concentrating its attention on the fleeing merchantman which already looked badly damaged (3 red dice and a holed hull). With a Master Gunner, Trained Gun Crews and a bigger cannon load out, the effects of her attention were not long in being felt. Shots rained down and hits were observed at the stern.

Receiving one further point of damage the Gouden Gans would now have 4 red dice, and since three makes it crippled, the fourth tips it over into making a roll on the critical damage table. The roll result forced the crew to surrender.

A blurry action shot - which I blame on too much grog. The Wapen van Delft decides to pursue the merchantman and rolls out its cannon.

Those on the Salamander had no way of knowing what had happened to their prize since she had disappeared from view around the island but they heard the frigates guns and those still manhandling the sacks of coin exchanged meaningful looks with each other as they laboured in the gloom below decks.

Tully was pretty much out of trouble now but while the Salamander made good its escape I had him spend 2 action points on "carpenters and saw bones" - swapping one of the ships red dice back to a white one while the going was good.

The outcome:

Mistakes were made on a number of occasions in the execution of the game, but they did not unrealistically distort the narrative, nor indeed disadvantage those affected by the mistakes - so no harm done and several lessons learned. 

The Dutch frigate recaptured the Gouden Gans and released the remains of its original crew, including a teary Pieter Van Rijn, from their fetters. Tully's small prize crew were clapped in irons and after a little "roughhousing" were taken back to the new VOC port at Batavia for a subsequent hanging trial.

Tully made it back to his lair with a damaged ship but had at least secured a cargo of coin to pass on to his sponsors. So perhaps the cruise (which took place over 8 game turns in 2hrs) should be considered a partial victory?

The damage to the hull was of course applied in error so there will be no cost levied to fix it - which is sort of a good thing since with no prize ship to sell Tully wouldn't have been able to pay for it!

Okey cokey I'm off next week to the old country in order to swing my loon pants at a folk festival. Here's a picture of what Loon Pants look like for those not of the UK's 1970's generation. Bloody good value at £2.25 a pair, don't you think?

Gotta love those 32inch bell bottomed flares daddyo.

Proper beer, ice cream, and fish and chips will be consumed aplenty while the mellowness abounds.

Might do another French tale upon my return so consider yourselves warned.

***LATE EDIT*** Just discovered I've a hornets nest in the salon chimney (no that's not a metaphor). On the hottest day I can ever remember (45 degrees) I've had to light the fire to burn the buggers out. Someone somewhere is no doubt laughing their ass off at my expense.

* He's heard a rumour that when the sea birds take a drink the yeast will expand rapidly enough to make their stomachs  explode. Told you he wasn't a nice guy.

** I've been led to believe that 1652 is still a bit early for the ships wheel but I'm happy to be corrected on the matter by  anyone in the know.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

All At Sea

A couple of posts ago I explained how during 1652 the Dutch Stadholder's and the British Commonwealth found themselves at war over an unexpected incident in the English Channel.

By the autumn of 1652 word of the conflict had finally reached the protagonist's two main economic corporate states in East Asia (the East India Company and the much larger Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie) but both were unwilling to engage in anything that might disrupt their profits and they chose to distance themselves from the conflict.


And why would they get involved? They were having a fine old time of it, exchanging modest amounts of silver for, indigo, pepper, ivory, nutmeg, cloves, porcelain, lacquer, mace, tea, silk and assorted precious metals - all of which commanded extortionate prices back in Europe and most of which travelled at some point in badly protected merchant ships through a strip of water called the Straits of Malacca.

To show you the area the two companies covered and where our sea faring games are about to take place - I've used a contemporary(ish) map that is both way too small, grossly distorted, and includes numerous depictions of unlikely sea monsters (all very "al a mode" of course for cartographers of the time).

South East Asia as it used to look back in the day.

The aforementioned Straits of Malacca are a channel between Sumatra and Malaysia, Sumatra being the yellow coloured island directly above the galleon at the bottom of the picture and Malaysia being the pink bit just above that.

The Straits are important because they form the shortest maritime route between the source of all those expensive goodies and the main EIC and VOC ports in eastern India, (Kolkata and Chenai) which are the first real stopping off points on the way back to Europe.

For the sake of the next few games let's assume that a couple of East India Company Directors have seen the opportunity to make a few (patriotic) quid on the side by licensing a privateer, strictly off the books of course, to interdict some of those choice VOC Amsterdam bound cargo's.

I think we'd all agree that a group of corrupt officials making money out of an unnecessary war is stretching things a bit far, but hey this is only a story. I mean that'd never happen in the real world…right?

Let's continue our flight of fancy by picturing them dragging the required privateer from the bowels of one of their own gaols in the form of a disgraced former EIC captain called John Tully.

Here he is:

Captain John Tully

Why was he in the gaol in the first place? Mind your own beeswax! All we need to know is he's not a particularly nice chap, has a wooden prosthesis where his left forearm and hand used to be and is often cruel to small mammals. Oh and seagulls.

The directors offered him his freedom and a ship in return for 4 cargoes a quarter, to be delivered in secret to their agent at the north Sumatran port of Aceh. Seeing that possession of the ships which the cargoes originally came in might take some explaining the directors resolved that Tully could keep any that were still seaworthy and use their sale to fund his operations.

But isn't that piracy I hear you cry?


Not when you've been issued one of these:

Ah come on…this is as close to a "pamphlet" as I'm going to get this time round.

The ship that Tully's been given is the "Salamander", a VOC schooner posted as missing with all hands (and strangely enough it's cargo of pepper) some 3 months previously, and the crew they've provided him with are some of the EIC's worst - a mix of Bengali, Malay and Tamil accompanied by a small number of European "officers".


Note that ships of this period have yet to adopt semi standardised colour schemes and are armed with an ill assorted range of weaponry. The Salamander's officers have merchant seaman rankings (so First Mate, rather than 1st Lieutenant for example) and a ships doctor, separate navigator etc would only ever be available if one were captured off a better equipped (usually navy) ship. Forming a line of battle... forget it. Coordinated broadsides - hah. Napoleonic standards - these certainly ain't!

I'd also like to point out that any rigging shown is only there to make the model look nice - it sure as hell won't be correct. Also, unimpressed by the Peter Pig website pictures I never ordered the 4mm high crew or cannons,  but I'm beginning to regret that now since the ships themselves turned out okay.

Remembering that our protagonist needed a cool hideout, the directors found him a former Portuguese (and then Spanish till the occupants died of an unnamed tropical disease) fort on a lump of barren rock 150 nm north east of Sumatra's Bandeh Aceh - right in the mouth of the shipping lanes that run through the Straits as it happens.

Here's a piccie.

That scratch built island fort

I promised to make no further mention of my junk, but here's the latest one off the slipway… behold the Shenzhou.

The Shenzhou (and a host of other names and profiles when required).

On behalf of Captain Tully I'm going to roll one 4 sided dice per turn, each turn approximating one month. The number rolled will be the number of vessels his ship and crew will encounter in that month - the actual ships (including other pirates / privateers) being drawn randomly from a pool of ship data cards.

Ships captured in battle and taken back to base with a prize crew will be sold at half the points value shown on their data card and any booty thus gained will be used to effect any necessary repairs to the Salamander.

Before I close here's the last of my latest creations, a semi sunken ship, which presents a grounding / collision hazard along with various islands and shallows.

I said left hand down a bit…oh bugger.

We'll let Captain Tully settle in to his new gaff for a day or two I think before I start rolling that 1D4 and we cast off to adventure.


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

The Fracas At Foxcote Ford

You'll recall that a couple of months ago I had one of my usual brainwaves and decided to find another use for my ECW troops by doing a regional campaign.

Caught up in all the "excitement" I'd forgotten that regional warfare in the period was mostly about annoying enemy garrisons and extorting cash out of helpless civilians. What it was not really about was regular major battles. This lack of action and surfeit of bean counting has frankly begun to bore the arse off me so while I'll relay the outcome of my recent skirmish (below) I'm going to hereby bury this thing good and proper and move on to something more interesting instead.

They say you cant polish a turd - and while that's no doubt true, I've probably spent too long on this one trying to roll it in glitter.

I'm also beginning to understand a new rule of blogging thumb, and I offer this gem to others, gratis. If you can't carry the Indonesian porn industry with you on a project, somethings clearly going wrong. That said, I'd like to specially thank the good folks at Singapore Dry Cleaning for their repeated requests to press my underwear at competitive rates and dear Hamijd who I think, (my arabic's not what it should be) wanted to debate Gerard Winstanley's The Levellers Standard Advanced, through  the medium of the Koran. I think. Google translate…pah.

Having mulled over this regrettable failure I realised that one of the strengths of my original country wide campaign was that it guaranteed a battle at predictable quarterly intervals (which, when you are writing about battles with toy soldiers might be considered something of an advantage…durh) and the outcome went on to be used in a simplistic way to influence the narrative of a wider conflict. Having unexpectedly finished the previous campaign with a wounded King and a royal court in French exile I may consider bringing the stuttering jock back with a bit of foreign help. We'll see.

Anywhoo… back to the skirmish.

I used the opportunity of an ambushed Parliamentarian convoy to introduce "characters" to the battlefield, with each of the colonels in this modest rumble receiving an FK&P dice generated character trait as something new to try. Strategies did not seem applicable and because I'd already decided on a situation I didn't bother with the reconnaissance element either. The objective was for Parliament to get a couple of wagon loads of coin (the greatly delayed wages for the men of Sheffield) off the north edge of the board and for the Royalists to try to intercept it.

The Parliamentary convoy, only half a day out from Buckingham, had been forced to cross the Foxcote stream via a small ford. The cavalry, dragoons and the first wagon made it across easily enough but the second wagon became stuck, and with the weight of all the silver on board was in grave danger of breaking an axle. As news of the problem reached the front of the column the charismatic colonel Pickering ordered an immediate halt, causing all the units behind him to concertina up on each other in confusion.

For their part the Royalists had only heard of the convoys departure at the last minute so the mixed force of cavalry and foote assembled to intercept it faced the real possibility of never being able to catch it en route. Eschewing all military maxims, its leader Colonel Sefton, desperately divided his force in two, the horse under his command speeding off to block the road before Northampton, while the foote under colonel Crowthorne were left to march across country then up the same road the convoy had used in a very belated pincer move from the south.

Essentially the convoy would remain stuck in the centre of the board, double boxed (in FK&P terms) until the wagon snagged in the ford could free itself. The wagon crew would throw off their surly bonds and the Royalist forces to the north would arrive on the first throw of a 6 - then following this a throw of a 5 & 6 and so on. The foote approaching from the south would follow the same dicing process but with a -2 modifier  to reflect their lack of speed. I'd taken the liberty of twisting the board through 90 degrees and ignored the usual ECW force squaring off set up in order to accommodate the scenario.

The map looked like this:

Foxcote Ford

The points cost of the forces used generated 8 victory medals for each side and are shown below. The baggage trayne wagons are owned and operated by civilian carters so while they do not form part of the force cost, (made that bit up on the hoof - so some direction is required here Simon if you ever read this) they do cause the loss of 1 victory medal each if overrun.

Here's how the whole shebang turned out.

On the first turn the wagon in the stream remained stuck (rolled a 5) and the Parliamentary foote craned their necks to see what was going on up ahead. With a degree of resignation the old sweats took off their shoes and stockings in an attempt to avoid several miles of anticipated "squelch foot". At the head of the column the cavalry horses nibbled fitfully at the hedgerow on either side of the road and the troopers joked amongst themselves. If their leader, Colonel Pickering, had been a second world war Lieutenant in the Burmese jungle he'd have been heard to whisper…"I don't like it Sergeant…it's quiet…too quiet!"

Waddya mean left hand down a bit? I can get this through there. Oh balls!

And the Colonel was right to be a bit twitchy because in their half of turn 1 the Royalist cavalry unexpectedly rolled a 6 and clattered into view a little way down the road.

Turn 2 saw the recalcitrant wagon freed when a group of reluctant dragoons were ordered to help drag it out of trouble, (they rolled a 5). Once out of the water the wagon was turned right off the road so that the angry wagon master could assess any damage caused by such a heavy handed treatment. Aware that his bunched up force was extremely vulnerable to the sudden appearance of enemy cavalry the Colonel ordered his men to get off the track wherever it proved easiest.

Despite being knackered after their cross country dash the Royalist horse knew that they could not afford the luxury of waiting for the eventual arrival of Crowthorne's foote so at Sefton's bidding Goff's regiment headed East to swing around a large stand of trees, Harcourt's men rode up onto the end of a short ridge and Caldwells' veterans stared down the road at their opponents in a sort of strange mexican stand off as Hugh Pickering's horse barred the track to any assault on the units redeploying behind them.

The Royalist cavalry begins to arrive.

Actually Sefton had done the Royalist foote commander a disservice since though his men were currently closer than anyone expected the Colonel had ridden on ahead and become transfixed by the sight of a 5,000ft high satanic cat.

Attack of the 5,000ft cat. It transpires that Lola has unexpected Parliamentary leanings.

In a fearful funk he hared back to his men to report his sighting, the junior officers upon his arrival discretely sniffing the air around him for any evidence of drink.

Turn 3 saw the Parliamentary horse struggling to cross the hedge bordering the road to the west while the dragoons chose the east and unhurriedly began to dismount on the other side. There was my usual drawing of 1's at every critical moment which went a long way to ensuring the Parliamentarians were left exposed when the should have reached a modicum of positional safety. Them's the breaks I suppose.

Turn 3 Parliament scatters to left and right. 

Eager to see the giant satanic cat Crowthorne's men pressed forward with renewed vigour (a roll of 6 - 2, i.e. 4 ensuring their arrival) on the field. While they were disappointed by the lack of said cat they were relieved to note the enemy was now in sight and all the hurry hurry hurry could be put on the back burner for a bit.

It was right there boys! While the Colonel's enormous feline was no longer in evidence - the later discovery of a huge dirty paw print out on the heath helped spawn the enduring legend of the Hell Cat of Foxcote.

Unaware of their compadre's arrival the Royalist cavalry took advantage of the Parliamentarian's poor chit draws and bad positioning. With 10 cards for pistols, dash, and attacking into the flank, Harcourt's horse thundered across the ridge and down upon Onslow's reforming unit, scoring 6 hits of which only 3 were saved. Suitably demolished the survivors ran and 3 victory medals were dropped into the Royalists piggy bank. The rapid overthrow of their opponents left the victorious unit in pursuit mode with an enormous red triangle descending from the heavens and no leader to help reign them in.

Proof that playing with firearms can be dangerous.

Not to be outdone, and to be honest a little unnerved by Colonel Pickering's distant but steely gaze, the veterans of Caldwell's horse - accompanied by that centaur of a man John Sefton launched themselves down the track at the enemy's waiting line of pistols. Had they not been driven on by the momentum of those behind them, the Parliamentarian's withering volley might have ended matters for the regiment there and then, but as it was the 50% that avoided being chopped from the saddle got close enough to deal out their own brand of martial justice. At the head of his men John Sefton took a pistol ball in the the thigh (drew a leader loss ace followed by a 7 indicating a light wound). Regrouping, the cavaliers charged again, but this time were met with less return fire and managed to close right in. Shaken by the Royalists determination, it was Pickering's charisma and nothing else that kept the Parliamentarian line intact. (The character trait rolled for Pickering helped his unit save the one hit the cavaliers managed to inflict during this second assault).

The Parliamentarian horse in the lane were saved from destruction by Pickering's randomly generated charismatic nature. How come when the Gods' rolled for me they generated grumpy old fart?!.

Turn 4. Unable to rally his men in a zone of control, Pickering ordered his force to retire. Wheeling about they headed back for the ford but didn't put as much distance between themselves and the enemy as they'd hoped due to yet another poor chit draw result.

Having heard the crack of pistols up ahead the Parliamentary foote prepared their weapons but were surprisingly ordered to about face when Birche's unit at the tail of the column heard the 3 enemy regiments marching up the lane behind them chanting "here kitty kitty".

Turn 5 saw a lot of Parliamentary attempts at repositioning (mostly to no avail) and the sudden desire to get the hell out of Dodge by both wagon masters, which is a difficult trick to pull off when you command an overladen 17th century cart without disk brakes or power steering. The so far largely unmentioned Goff''s regiment of Royalist horse (sneakily moving around the eastern flank) were on them like pigeons on a chip. Following the first group of carters immediate and unconditional surrender Goff's men were only too keen to fill their bags with coin before the officers arrived on the scene. Score 1 more victory medal for the good guys. (What? Factional bias…moi…nonsense).

The wagon master puts his pedal to the metal…to no avail.

The brave Colonel Pickering had considered his opponents spent and now out of the enemy's zone of control set about rallying back some of his chaps. Unfortunately for him the cavaliers were not as spent  on the morale front as he'd imagined (though they only had one potential hit loss left in them) and chose not to ignore the backs of their nearby foe. Spurred into one last desperate charge at sword point (all ammo used up) they sent Pickering's remaining boys scampering from the field in disarray rather than managing to reform. Pickering survived the debacle but did manage through the draw of two aces to secure an interesting and manly scar to later show to his colleagues. 3 more victory medals landed in the Royalist Piggy bank.

Colonel Pickering picks up his double ace generated manly scar. I'm sure he'll show it to you later if you ask nicely.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the less dashing footsloggers at the other end of the board had drawn close enough to engage in an unenthusiastic firefight which produced a lot off smoke but not a lot of widows.

By turn 6 it was really all over. The second baggage wagon was overrun (making it 8 victory medals to 0) and the only consolation for the Parliamentarians was that Deverill's dragoons (who'd seemingly taken most of the game so far to get off their mounts and into position) now realised they were just across the hedge from, and had a pop at, Caldwell's horse. Their fire was not in volume and not that accurate, but it was enough to see off the remains of the Cavalier horse and leave the eventual score a still rather chastening 8 - 2 to the King's men.

Was the scenario unbalanced? Quite possibly, though I'd argue that better chit draws could have put the psalm singers in an immediately less vulnerable position and the later arrival of the Royalist cavalry would shave skewed the outcome a little more in the Parliamentarian favour.

Lets face it sometimes life is like a box of chocolates (as Forrest Gump famously observed) and in some cases all thats left for you to pick from are the bloody coconut surprise and the coffee one's that nobody likes.

You'd best dig your waders and sou'westers out for next week. We're going a pirating.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Midlands Campaign - Turn 6

Okey cokey - here's where we were at the end of last turn:

End of May 1643

Once again Parliament won the initiative die roll and their orders were randomly generated by TCMB while I committed mine to paper.

The first of the Parliamanetary orders was "requisition" and after being diced for to see if the order was received and enacted it saw the militia protecting the good burghers of Coventry nip up the road to "ask nicely" for some extra contributions to the cause from the inhabitants of Nuneaton. Settlements asked to contribute in this manner don't suffer any lasting damage but the governor of Coventry was randomly generated as a "Brute" so he managed to squeeze another resource point out of the process by poking about under a few mattresses. 

The pure titties second order was slightly more serious since it turned out to be a "raid". Regrettably the order, generated in Northampton didn't need to be sent far and it got through without hindrance to the boys in Leamington who rolled high enough to set it in train. The commander of the raiders (again randomly generated for this turn) turned out to be a "son of mars" - which wasn't very helpful and the garrison forces taking part in the raid were ranked as large. Sigh. Hoping to control the approaches to the Parliamentary capital the raiding force set out towards the Royalist town of Banbury.

By way of a reminder here's how a "raid" occurs.

4) Raid. The garrison must march no more than 20 miles to a nominated enemy garrison and raid its settlement. Both sides roll 1d6 and the higher score is the winner. Ties are re rolled. 

If the defender is victorious then the attacking group returns empty handed and becomes discontented. If already in this state it is lowered in size, i.e. large to medium. 

If the attacker is victorious the defender is driven out of the site (temporarily) while the attackers pillage the place and seize the value of its resource points. The site will have have its resource points reduced by one from here on in. The returning defeated defenders are marked as discontented and if already in that state are reduced in size. There are a number of applicable die roll modifiers to the raid combat:

-1 modifier to any side in the raid that is in a discontented state.
+1 modifier to any side that is bigger than its opponent.
+1 modifier to any side whose commander has the "son of mars" character trait.
-1 modifier to any side whose commander has the "coward" character trait.
+1 modifier to the defenders if the site has military defences (star fort or castle).

Parliament rolled a 4 and with the two mods in red above achieved a score of 6. The brave defenders of the King's peace managed a pitiful 2.

Observing the size of the approaching force Banbury's commander, Samuel Bulstrode, an "undisciplined" chap, discovered that a leaking storehouse roof he'd been meaning to get repaired had rendered the entire garrisons powder supply damp. Deciding it was a good day for a picnic he led his companies off towards Stow on the Wold ignoring the astonished looks of the citizenry. Much later; after the coast was clear, his now thoroughly demoralised men marched back through the still smoking market square to the jeers and catcalls of the towns thoroughly ravished inhabitants.

A charcoal sketch of a pillaging roundhead, (in a vain attempt to add dramatic tension to the narrative).
The last of the parliamentary orders was an assassination attempt or what I've come to term the "nandunket option" (after he asked if it was possible for me as governor in Worcester to get bumped off that way), the only possible target within range being the brave colonel Fieldhouse in Lichfield. Thankfully although the order got through it is classed as a "brave duty" and the 3 the roundheads rolled came nowhere near the  requisite 10 on 2d6 to enact it.

Having sort of weathered the storm I let slip the dogs of war myself. Sort of. With the recent close call at Bromsgrove I issued instructions for work to start on some defences there, the cowardly Captain Ash and a freshly motivated citizenry being only too happy to break out the shovels and oblige me on this occasion.

A "requisition" order to Sir Herbert Staunton in Hereford sent his men off on a lovely little jaunt to the town of Ledbury whose inhabitants nearly fell over themselves to surrender all of their sash cord, unneeded grain and lead from the church roof.

Lastly I unleashed a pre planned raid of my own. The large garrison at Lichfield, under the command of the aforementioned colonel Fieldhouse made straight for the vipers nest at Birmingham. Though the order got through okay the garrison only just rolled the minimum 7 required to enact it and it arrived at the outskirts of the town to find that the garrison in the town had been unexpectedly bolstered (randomly generated as large) and was led by a man with the same "son of mars" character trait as Fieldhouse. The first skirmish resulted in a tie and the subsequent re roll ended in a one point victory to the defenders. A crestfallen Fieldhouse led his battered and now discontented men back to the cathedral close in Lichfield.

TCMB was not about for the final end of turn random events die roll (something about going out to buy food I gather) so I did it - and didn't like the result. Thoroughly dispirited by a very poor series of outcomes this turn I cheated outrageously and chose:

5. A Parliamentary force escorting a convoy of supplies of less than 70 FK&P points enters the map from any Parliament controlled settlement in the South and attempts to exit via any Parliament controlled settlement in the North. No Parliamentary settlements have their resource points ravaged during its passage. The arrival of the force triggers the Operational Phase and an average die roll gives the number of elapsed days before a Royalist counter force of less than 80 FK&P points can appear on the map from any controlled settlement in the south. The passage of the Royalist counter force will not produce a resource depredation effect on any settlements it passes through. The Parliamentary force must include two free baggage trayne units and if captured or destroyed they grant 1D10 resource points to the Royalist cause.

The reasoning behind the lack of ravaging here is that the Parliamentary force is carrying sufficient supplies in the baggage train and the Royalist units are of moderate size and in too much of a hurry to catch the enemy.

Anyway, methinks it's about ruddy time we had a battle.

Here's the final map of this turns proceedings:

June 1643
After all the mucking and messing about with revenue and expenditure I chose not to pay the wages of the now discontented garrisons on the expectation of giving out "quell disorder" commands next turn, thereby forcing them to buck up rather than paying them to do so. With a subsequently reduced wages bill of 15 and a total income of 24 I was able to stuff another 9 resource points into the treasury, which with its new total of 22 is enough to satisfy even the most egregious of the Kings monetary demands.

In the next post we'll determine the route and the likely fate of the Parliamentary convoy.


Monday, 3 June 2019

Midlands Campaign - Turn 5

Well it's been a few weeks since I dusted off the ECW regional campaign so for those like me who find it increasingly hard to remember matters of any import here's a bit of a refresher.

The overall aim of the campaign, you'll recall, is to control (by garrison) more than twice the amount of resource points from the settlements on the map than the Parliamentary faction, each settlement having a resource point value in brackets after its name. Further if I fail to satisfy the Kings randomly generated demands for funds on three occasions I'll be replaced by someone better at extortion and Parliament will  be deemed the winner.

Having gone through two strategic phases in which revenues were gathered, defences built and garrisons enhanced a Parliamentary army (generated by a 1d20 die roll) entered the map intent on capturing my seat of government in Worcester. Blocked on their route at the the last possible moment by the brave (and unlikely) stand of the small garrison in Bromsgrove they were eventually thrown into confusion and forced to withdraw when a belated Royalist counter force met them on the heath outside the towns defences.

The upshot of the encounter was that the routes taken by both the Parliamentary field army and the Royalist counter force did much to ruin the economies of the friendly settlements they passed through, with many smaller towns reduced to a subsistence level and unable to generate a surplus that could be taxed or seized.

On the Royalist side the small garrisons in Stow On the Wold, Chipping Camden, Stratford Upon Avon and Bromsgrove became disaffected (white circles) as they were forced to watch the people of the settlements' they were meant to protect get robbed blind by their own army as it swept through. In Evesham, untouched by any marauding army, Parliamentary spies had spread a rumour that the men of the garrison had the pox. Shunned by the local women, they too became disaffected and groups of them from all of the sites mentioned above began to abandon the colours.

The map after the battle ended up looking like this:

The chief problem for the Parliamentary commander was the realisation that if a Royalist field army was randomly generated to march from the south on his capital in Northampton it would be able to pass through Stow On The Wold and Banbury and be at Northampton's gates before any counter force  would have a chance to respond. Though Northampton contains a castle icon meaning the Royalists would have to engage in a siege, (with an uncertain outcome) it was not a prospect he wished to entertain. At the very least Banbury would have to be nullified in the future and garrisoned as a buffer.

My problem as Royalist Governor were the evaporating garrisons shown in white. I could use my three forthcoming orders to get the garrison commanders to quell this discontent (turning them back into effective units) but that would require a roll of 9+ for each of them on 2D6 and none of the commanders in those garrisons (two cowards and a son of mars) had personality traits that would add any positive modifiers to that roll.

Now if these discontented garrisons were paid they would remain discontented (with a negative effect on any combat) but they wouldn't desert enmasse, however the more I looked at it the more I wondered why I should bother. The settlements they were guarding were no longer of any economic value and their presence was actually a drain on my overall resources. Okay Evesham and Bromsgrove would provide a block to any advance on Worcester and Stow the necessary jumping off point for any Royalist southern based move but Chipping Camden and Stratford were bringing nothing to the party.

Deciding not to pay them and fobbing them off with "were all going to have to tighten our belts in this period of austerity" put an extra 2 resource points in the treasury but saw enough of the men desert to render the sites out of anyones control.

Having established the post battle state of play and a return to to the strategic phase I lost the 1D6 roll off for initiative and TCMB generated three random orders for my imaginary opponent while I agonised over mine.

The first Parliamentary order was "plant a garrison" and having passed the required die roll they did so in Buckingham, The second order was also "plant a garrison" which again having passed the requisite die roll sent the people of Derby to occupy Ashby De La Zouch. The final order was "augment defences" which I thought was appropriate for Birmingham, but they failed the required 5+ on 2D6 roll so I assume the once enthusiastic Parliamentarian crowds in the town had found their ardour for the cause dulled somewhat after playing extended host to their liberators and had duly refused to turn out with the their picks and spades when ordered to.

My three commands were simply "quell dissent" which required a 9+ on 2D6 and which were sent to Bromsgrove, Evesham and Stow on the Wold. Though all the orders got through okay the morale of the allegedly pox bearing militia in Evesham didn't improve, (they only rolled a total of 3).

All that was left in this phase was for TCMB to perform her 1D20 random event duties which she did by rolling 18, the outcome of which was this:

18. Change of allegiance. A Parliamentary site with a "small" garrison seeks the King's forgiveness and declares for his cause. Mark the site as Royalist and appoint a new garrison commander.

Sudeley Castle in the far south seemed a likely candidate so I hung a few dissenters and appointed Captain Melville Small a "bookish" man to ensure my writ would run there.

Okay after all that the map looks like this:

Situation as at the the end of May 1643

The upshot of all this hullabaloo was that as Royalist Governor I was left with 20 resource points from the map with an additional 1D6 (I scored a 5) for my capital in Worcester giving me a grand total of 25, while my Parliamentary rival who went through the same calculation ended up with 27 having scored a 6 for his capital in Northampton.

Out of my grand total of 25 points I would need 20 to pay my reduced garrisons wages (1 per small, 2 per medium and 3 per large) leaving me a paltry 5 to add to the 8 already in the treasury.

So with no armies entering the map this time its onwards to the next strategic phase - with not a single picture of a junk ship to cause unnecessary comment I hope you note!