Sunday, 23 October 2011

Extract from the Journal of Col. Sterling Moustache (ret.)

It was not without some trepidation that, in the summer of 1910, your humble correspondent, Col. Sterling Moustache (ret.) set out on safari into the hinterlands of southern Kenya.
Although our intentions were noble – manly sport, the honest & lawful acquisition of ivory, and the protection of the simple natives from dangerous brutes – our company was somewhat of a mixed bag.
My companion on the expedition was old ‘Peachy’ Keen, manager of the District Commissioner’s office in Randini. Peachy has become notorious locally for his readiness to regard anything that isn’t wearing a hat as ‘wildlife’, and a fair target. If you will address your attention to my chum Lawrence’s rather splendid photographs, you will see that Peachy is the fellow in the wideawake hat with the shabby weskit that makes him look like some sort of tradesman.
Our expedition manager was found under dubious circumstances in a dockside tavern. One Albert O’Balsam, late of county Fermanagh, who boasted of his years of experience organizing expeditions. You could actually see mosquitoes fall from the air as they entered the haze of gin fumes which surrounded him. (He’s the fellow going about in his shirtsleeves, wearing a pith helmet which looks decidedly ‘army issue, other ranks’.)
I myself am the chap in the bush hat with the rather rakish turned-up side brim – a feature which I found most effective at getting badly sunburned on one side of your face.
We had been led into the UmBongo river valley by our Bantu scout, who informed us that this minor tributary of the Gallana river was the territory of a large and active pride of lions.
Our safari came over the northern rim of the shallow valley just after sunrise, and stopped to take stock. The river flowed west-to-east, from right to left, as it were, with a significant bend around the base of a formidable hill which commanded the whole valley.
To the east, the far bank of the river was obscured by a large swath of the most dense and forbidding jungle. It was plainly very bad country indeed, and I did not give much for the chances of anyone attempting to cross it. I determined that we should look for a crossing place at the river as close as possible to the hill, in order to ascend and take advantage of the view from the top.
Our order of march was somewhat unconventional. Our two ‘Guns’, Peachy and myself, proceeded ahead, myself on the left & Peachy on the right, each of us accompanied by three Askaris, with our scout in between both groups, close enough to indicate targets to either.
The rest of the safari, however, was less well-organized. O’Balsam proved to have no command whatsoever of our thirteen native bearers, and relied on four armed Askaris to herd the poor fellows like sheep, in no particular order at all.
As we descended the valley’s gentle slope, our scout drew our attention to a brace of fine gazelles. Wind direction must have favoured us, because they showed no alarm at our approach. I allowed Peachy first shot, and he dropped his mark cleanly – the pelt only somewhat marred by his preference for excessive calibre! The remaining creature took off like a rocket, my own shot going nowhere near it.
Deciding to wait for the bearers to come up and collect the trophy, we were perturbed to find that they had stopped moving entirely and gone into a huddle, and O’Balsam & his Askaris were scampering about trying to chivvy them on. After some time he managed to restore a semblance of order and Peachy’s prize was secured.
Reaching the riverbank, we turned east in search of a crossing place, with Peachy & his Askaris in the lead, and soon reached some shoals which were as good as a natural ford. The moment the group set foot in the water, however, a scaly brute of a crocodile launched itself from the shallows and seized the hindmost man, a Zanzibari by the name of Mustafa. After a brief and confused scramble, Mustafa was dragged into the river, and all reservations about firing into the struggle had to be put aside. Shot after shot struck the beast, protected by its armour plating, before it finally expired. By this time its jaws had done their dreadful work and there was no hope for Mustafa. Sinister movement in the water made it clear that both bodies were beyond recovery, however.
Undaunted, we pressed on, Peachy and his group crossing the shoal and starting up the hill. I myself was in midstream with my Askaris, when, with a start, I realised that we were not alone! Not twenty yards away, on the bank we had just left, stood a group of fearsomely adorned savages armed with shield and spear! Whilst we were on the north bank, they had been hidden from us by the undergrowth and the curve of the river. Now they were to our rear, and in position to separate us from the bearers. There was nothing for it but to put a brave face on and introduce ourselves. Taking our scout to translate, I sauntered over to bid them good morning.
Things were pretty tense on both sides, when O’Balsam and his travelling circus reached the crossing place. Immediately, the bearers froze with fear, and when O’Balsam and his lads set about them, they broke and ran, dumping their packs on the bank and splashing through the shallows, straight for that daunting patch of thick jungle I had been so concerned about! I quickly detailed my Askaris to get the bearers back in order, and they, together with O’Balsam’s mob, soon had them shepherded back in column.
This comedy of errors broke the ice with our new neighbours, who turned out to be Masai, and splendid fellows they were. They bestowed upon me a Masai name, which means “He-Who-Can’t –Get-Good-Staff”, and told us that a notorious rogue lion, grown old and usurped from the pride by younger males, haunted the south-east fringes of the pride territory. The conversation had turned to the merits of ostrich-feather headdresses, when we were interrupted by shouts of alarm from across the river!
Peachy and his Askaris had reached the brow of the hill... and had been immediately confronted by a large group of Samburu tribesmen rushing towards them, waving their spears and yelling like banshees! Peachy and his Askaris opened fire at the natives, killing one outright and wounding another. They only had time for the one volley, however, before the natives reached them...
and continued running! Behind the natives, Peachy could now make out the cause of their panic: two lionesses the Samburu had surprised while hunting, now in hot pursuit of the unfortunate natives!
Behind Peachy, the fleeing Samburu came over the brow of the hill. Predictably, the bearers took off like rabbits, back across the river. Politely excusing myself to the Masai, (who prudently withdrew) I sent my Askaris after the bearers, as O’Balsam and his group had more urgent matters to attend to.
O’Balsam and his men made the same assumption Peachy had, and fired into the mob of Samburu, dropping two and wounding another. Finding themselves between the frying pan and the fire, the remaining Samburu split left and right, those on the left jumping down the sheer side of the hill into the reed beds, those on the right plunging into the jungle.
Meanwhile, back on the hilltop, Peachy and his Askaris turned their guns on the lionesses, managing only to graze them & infuriate them further. The beasts hurled themselves at two of the Askaris. One was immediately dragged down and fatally mauled, but the other managed to draw his bush knife and plunge it into the brute’s heart! By now, O’Balsam and myself were running toward the hilltop, and every gun was turned on the surviving lioness. But the fatal shot came from the same Askari who’d despatched the first beast!
The group reassembled on the hilltop to reorganize and to skin the lion carcasses. A great fuss was made of our doughty lion-slaying Askari, his comrades awarding him the titles ‘Simba’ & ‘Simbakuu’ for the single-handed slaying of first one, then two lions.
After a fortifying tot of brandy we surveyed the lands to the south of the river from the hilltop. I determined to go east - to our left - from the foot of the hill, exploring the region the Masai said the Rogue Male had been seen around.
With Peachy eagerly pressing on ahead, accompanied by Simbakuu & our scout, we moved out. At the foot of the slope, we spotted a group of four lions basking in the sun. Peachy wanted to “run down the hill and shoot one of those lions!” I reminded him that we were British sportsmen, and that the correct thing to do was to walk down the hill and shoot all of those lions.
The lions, though, had no such reservations, and rushed Peachy’s group! I took aim at one of the beasts and fired – much to my annoyance, so did O’Balsam’s Askaris, from the top of the hill! (I took the opportunity after the dust had settled to remind O’Balsam that the Askari’s were there to protect the safari, not to blaze away at every target and spoil the gentlemen’s chances of getting a trophy!)
Our bullets told, though: two lions fell dead – one to Simbakuu’s rifle - and one was wounded before they reached our chaps. One beast leapt at Peachy, while the other, already wounded, had foolishly chosen Simbakuu as its prey. My Askaris and I joined the fight, and I managed to brain Simbakuu’s beast with the brass butt plate of my Westley Richards .450. We had the most dreadful struggle to wrestle the remaining lion off Peachy, and when it finally succumbed, the poor chap was in rags.
I enquired whether there was a traditional name for one who slayed three lions single-handedly. It turned out that there was: ‘The Long-Awaited One Who Will Drive the White Devils into the Sea’. Awkward moment, really. We decided to stick with Simbakuu.
With the day drawing to a close, we used the last of the afternoon to scout thickets and patches of rough ground further to the south-east. We started a handsome pair of gazelles, and invited O’Balsam to try a shot, as his chaps seemed to have everything under control for once. Using a double-barrelled 10-bore, he blew his delicate target to smithereens in a hail of buckshot. I myself pulled the trigger on a dud round! Thankful that I had heard the ‘Dead Man’s Click’ while facing nothing more threatening than a Gazelle, I reloaded.
At that moment, O’Balsam was once again required to go and bully the bearers, who had begun to inch back up the trail while he was otherwise engaged. Realising that we would have to make camp soon anyway, Peachy and I decided to beat one last thicket before calling it a day. Image2
Approaching a dense patch of bush, we were faced by a huge, scarred, grizzled visage – it could be none other than the Rogue lion! We threw our guns to our shoulders and fired – Peachy missed altogether, while I made my only really good shot of the day, and dropped the brute stone dead.
As we sat around the campfire, we reflected on a fine day’s sport, at the cost of only two dead Askaris. (Mustafa and that other fellow.) We had established friendly relations with the Masai, and shown the Samburu that it ain’t sensible to go running about and shouting native jibber-jabber at heavily-armed Englishmen. Pax Britannica, what? But... what if we hadn’t decided to try that last patch of bush, and had made camp within spitting distance of the old man-eater? What if we’d come across him before the gazelles, & me with a dud round in the breech? Well, that’s what makes it sporting, I suppose. And so to bed, lulled to golden slumbers by the sound of O’Balsam drunkenly cursing the bearers.

Pictures by Lawrence (Mahotsukai)
Commentary by Phil Hope (Norman D Landings)

Thursday, 17 March 2011


The cold grey dawn crept over the headland.  The one-eyed man drew his bearskin cloak around him and stared out at an empty sea.  Not a single sail broke the horizon.
Treachery, circumstance, or fate.  It mattered not.  The ships weren’t coming.
He stood, shrugged off the bearskin and stretched.  His breath was a thick white mist. 
A few short cycles of the moon... and it would have been over.  His pursuers cheated of their prey, his reputation enhanced by a year of victory after victory, the banners of his enemies hung in his hall.
But time had run out for Einar the Perpetrator.
The bleak, isolated promontory - intended as an escape route- had become a trap and everything would be decided here, today... the point of a sword.

Campaign Background:

This game formed the climax of an ongoing campaign chronicling the blood feud between two Viking Jarls : Gunnar the Aggrieved, and Einar the Perpetrator.
(editor’s note: First Encounter   Second Encounter)

In Viking law, a man with an outstanding accusation of murder against him could be hunted down and slain with impunity for a year from the date of the accusation.  If he could escape justice for that long, the Fates were assumed to have judged in his favour. 
Einar’s year of outlawry was almost over,  and he’d thrived on it.  At large and undefeated, this was to be his pursuer’s last attempt to have their vengeance.

The Rules:
We were using ‘Sword & Dagger’, our club rules, by Richard (AKA ‘Gunnar’) available to download from Tyneside Wargames Club website.
They’re 1:1 skirmish rules for Dark Age –High Medieval forces of around 40 men per warband/retinue.
The points system and army lists had been substantially revised since our previous game, with drastic results for our force composition!

Dramatis Personae:
 Einar (Norman D Landings)
A swashbuckling villain unashamedly modelled after Kirk Douglas’ character in “The Vikings”.
His retinue had always been based around a solid core unit of armoured hirdmen with two-handed axes – but the rules revision had introduced random rolling for different troop and weapon types, and I had lost almost all my hirdmen on the turn of the dice!  I fielded two units of spearmen (one my faithful Saxon mercenaries, who had distinguished themselves in the last outing) half-a-dozen Baresarks, a handful of archers, and a large mixed mob of raiders with swords and hand-axes in varying armour.

Guthrum (Mahotsukai)
Einar’s kinsman, therefore duty-bound to support him in the feud.  Truth be told, I got the sneaking  suspicion Guthrum disapproved of some of Einar’s more reckless exploits... but no-one could say he’d ever hesitated to take his place in the shieldwall!
Guthrum was leading a scratch force of locals – mainly spearmen with a handful of slingers and two wandering Bezerkers.  Presumably his own warband was engaged elsewhere.
(in game terms, Mahotsukai had to organize his force on the day  at short notice.)
Gunnar the Aggrieved (Herkybird)

Still whinging a year later... tch, I ask you.  If ‘Trisha’ was around in CE870, he’d have been on her show telling everyone how Einar done him wrong. Still, he’s a wrathful, hate-fuelled avenger in fine Nordic tradition, so it’s hard not to like the guy.  Oh, and since he went to Novogrod he hasn’t stopped wearing ridiculous baggy pants.
His force was composed of two solid spear units, with half-a-dozen slingers, a handful of armoured hirdmen accompanying Gunnar and his standard-bearer, and a handful of scouts.

Trygg Olafsson (Ian)
Gunnars kinsman, he had arguably suffered more in the pursuit of Einar than Gunnar himself, bearing the brunt of the combat in previous engagements – and coming out of it badly bloodied.  His brother Thorgrim accompanied the warband to avenge his son, (Trygg’s standard bearer) cut down in the last battle.  (to which Einar responded: “Take a number, and get in line....”)
Trygg fielded the surprise of the day – his core unit of hirdmen were all mounted, with the majority of the rest of his force being light skirmish types, with good numbers of archers and slingers.
The Terrain:

We played on a table roughly 4”x8”, with the long edges being N & S, the short edges E & W.
The terrain represented a low headland where Einar had been intending to take ship for Aengland, but had instead been trapped by Gunnar’s pursuing force.
The westward end only was the landward edge; the rest of the table was surrounded by sea.
The point of the set-up was to force Einar into an attacking strategy – a tough call, but only fair, since he had been able to dictate tactics in all the previous engagements.
As seemed to make sense for any headland, the ground rose from the sea to its high point in the middle of the table, then sloped back down again.  The low areas around the edges of the table were mostly salt-marsh, rough ground and reed-beds.

Gunnar & Trygg deployed at the Western edge – Gunnar toward the SW, & Trygg toward the NW.
Einer’s band ranked-up opposite Gunnar, and Guthrum opposite Trygg.

The Battle!

Turns 1-3:  All factions advance!

All commanders decide to ‘go with the flow’ and follow the path dictated by the terrain – Einar and Gunnar marching toward each other in the stretch of open ground along the southern shore, Trygg and Guthrum heading for the open ground to the north.

Gunnar’s two groups of spearmen form into a shieldwall and advance in purposeful order, 

 while his scouts and command group skirt the rougher ground toward the middle of the table.
(already, Einar thinks the spearmen look like a blocking force, intended to hold up his escape while the rest of his enemies close in... however, the only way to go is straight over their gutted corpses, so there’s no point worrying about it!)

As Gunnar’s scouts advance, his slingers split off from the main group, and head for a dense patch of rough ground.

 Einar’s raiders advanced in loose mobs, seeing no point in close-order drill while still so far from the foe.

Trygg’s initial advance sees his forces skirting some rough terrain.  His highly mobile warband flows easily around the broken ground and forms up facing the widest stretch of open ground on the table:  a potential killing ground for his cavalry and archers!

Guthrum, however, is no fool.  He slows the advance of his main body,

sending his archers into the dense reed-beds which border the open ground.

Turn 4: Form Ranks!

The general advance continues...
Einar’s warband organize themselves – his Viking raiders, best armoured of his men, will lead the advance.  His archers form the second rank of this unit, and he slows his advance to half-speed to allow them to move-and-shoot.  Although they score no hits, their shafts do make Gunnar think twice about leaving his men standing out in the open!

Turns  5 & 6: The Slings and Arrows of outrageous fortune!

 Gunnar’s men abandon their shieldwall and crowd into the margins of the rough ground to the North – their left.  In doing so, they cease their advance, content to wait for Einar to come to them.  Some shuffling in Gunnar’s ranks sees his slingers come to the fore, peppering Einar’s lead elements for a couple of Light Wounds.
His scouts press forward through some light woods and onto the slope of a small rise to Einar’s right.

Trygg has established his slingers in a dense patch of rough ground and continues to advance the rest of his men.  He continues to vex Guthrum’s scouts with hopeful long-range shots into the reeds, wounding a slinger in turn 5 and another in turn 6.

Guthrum continues to push forwards through the reed-beds, but has reached an impasse:  there’s no way to get any closer to the enemy without breaking cover.   He halts his men in some broken ground and rethinks his options....

Einar keeps pressing forward at a slow enough pace to allow his archers to keep shooting, taking a toll on Gunnar’s slingers.  Although this will allow time for Gunnar’s scouts to close from the north, there seems little point in rushing forward – no matter how fast the outlaws march, they won’t outrun the enemy horse!

(At this point, I, playing as Einar, discovered that my peasant archers have fallen foul of the new rules!  Viking peasantry are no longer allowed to be bow-armed in the revised army lists. A quick recalculation promotes them to Sergeants [the rules use generic medieval terminology]which increases my warband’s point total to 254 – still well within acceptable leeway for a 250pt game.)

Turn 7: Into the woods!

Gunnar decides to deploy for battle  in the rough ground.  His men, taking cover at its edges, are redeployed across it.  On Einar’s flank, Gunnar’s scouts come within range of the outlaws and their lone archer looses an arrow, scoring a Light Wound.

Trygg’s tactics seem to be working.  He leaves his skirmishers to whittle down Guthrum’s advance elements, and inclines his column of horse south – to his right – toward the impending clash between Gunnar and Einar!

Guthrum has also made the decision to head south – but Trygg’s forces are still too close to ignore.  He sends some light troops to the south, into rough terrain, but his main body use the round to redeploy with the stronger warriors to the right, to counter the threat of a charge.
Einar presses forward!  Continued archery from his advancing ranks forces a morale test from Gunnar’s slingers – they fail dismally and scatter!

Einar diverts his Viking spearmen to charge Gunnar’s scouts. Although they pose no major threat, the narrow front on which Einar and Gunnar’s forces will meet means there’s no advantage to be gained by everyone getting there at once – therefore, nothing to be lost by a small diversion!  Gunnar’s scouts, predictably, choose to evade the charge – only just managing to do so.

Turn 8: Finally, the Clash of Arms!
Realising that Guthrum is slipping his net, Trygg turns the screen of light troops which was holding him into a very orderly column, which follows his cavalry’s trail to the south. 

Eager to make up for lost time, Guthrum’s scouts rush through the broken ground to harry the flanks of Tyrgg’s column!

Back at the southern edge of the headland, Einar’s spearmen again charge Gunnar’s scouts, this time, caught against the edge of a thicket, they have little choice but to stand, and battle is joined.  The melee is inconclusive, with Gunnar’s archer the only casualty.

Turn 9: The Main Event!
Gunnar’s spearmen launch their attack from the rough ground, against Einar’s large mixed unit.
The combat is absolutely brutal!  The dice are merciless and wound after wound is dished out!

Einar’s men respond by charging in their turn – the Saxon mercenary spearmen charge Gunnar’s command group, pinning them to prevent them joining the main fight, while Einar and his Berserkirs pitch into the flank of Gunnar’s spearmen!

Trygg’s column rides toward the sound of battle, with Guthrum’s skirmishers still worrying at their flank; while Guthrum’s main force presses on some way behind.

Turn 10: Einardammerung!
In the press of melee, Gunnar finds himself face-to-face with Einar!  And, like many before him, has second thoughts when it comes down to it!  He steps aside and waves his archers forward – such arrant cowardice comes to naught as Einar parries with his shield.
Einar, too, has archers at his side – but he is made of sterner stuff!  Einar charges into single combat!
(It may seem reckless, but there is, in fact, a cunning plan: Stab Gunnar in the face ‘til he dies!)

But the Gods of battle have other plans.
Not for Einar the straw death!  In the face of the outlaw leader’s onslaught, Gunnar’s greataxe strikes home

and again!

After a year of constant pursuit, and repeated failure, on this bleak, marshy headland, Gunnar the Aggrieved has become Gunnar the Avenger.
Even in death, Einar manages to cheat Trygg, who seethes at missing the kill!
Guthrum has won renown for standing by his wayward kinsman against all comers.

The warriors of rank from both sides of the feud gather as a Viking funeral is prepared, and flames leap into the grey sky to Wagnerian strains!

Today’s victory belongs to Gunnar... but all present know that as long as this tale is told, men will know it as Einar’s Saga!

Gunnars version of events can be found Here

Pictures by Lawrence (Mahotsukai)
Commentary by Phil Hope (Norman D Landings)