[Duty & Honour] The Battle of Benevente (played at Conpulsion 2008, Edinburgh)

edited March 2008 in Actual Play
Duty & Honour Actual Play, Conpulsion 2008
The Battle of Benevente

The Players:

Kerri (playing Captain Lonsdale, the dashing pioneer) - a current playtester
David (playing Corporal Jenkins, the thieving git) - returning to RPGs after some years
Civi (playing Private Pike, the pious innocent) - new to indie games as a whole
Steve (playing Sergeant Potter, the ox-like brute) - a playtest GM

The Military Mission:

Hold the Ford at Benevente! Days before the Battle of Salamanca, Wellington learns that a column of French infantry, horse and artillery have landed to the north and are marching against him. Whilst he outnumbers them, they would harry his flank and that could be the deciding factor in his upcoming clash with the French. After receiving intelligence on the local area, he orders Colonel Jeffers of 22nd Lothian Borderers to send a company to hold the ford at Benevente until they receive reinforcements in the form of the 15th Kings Light Dragoons. Colonel Jeffers dispatches Captain Lonsdale and 2nd Company for this deadly task.

The Personal Missions:

Captain Lonsdale had to find the lost Ensign Spencer, the cousin of his lover, the Lady Spencer. The young officer had gone missing during a prior scouting mission.

Corporal Jenkins had heard that there was excellent brandy to be had in the monastary of Benevente and he had promised the lads in camp that he would bring some back

Private Pike was lost in this barren, deadly land and he needed to seek out spiritual atonement.

Sergeant Potter wanted to stamp his authority on the men (over the apparently favouritism shown to Corporal Jenkins) by featuring his strength at any juncture.

The Play:

After the initial briefing scene, everyone had a chance to author a scene for their character. David decided to try to steal some salt beef from the Quartermasters (in order to trade it for some brandy - making it a Challenge against his Personal Mission) He failed and he was hauled in front of his Captain by the Quartermaster. Captain Lonsdale saw off the Quartermaster, risking his Reputation with the regiment and sent him away with a flea in his ear. Pike was sciving and was caught by the Regimental Sergeant Major and chased back to Captain Lonsdale whilst Potter was hard drilling some privates for having dirty muskets. Kerri became more than aware that being the officer wasn't always easy.

Everyone chipped into the planning of the Military Mission. They decided that initially they would plan four of the six Challenges (Getting There, Gaining the Trust of the Locals, Spiking the Ford and Battling the Frogs). After a quick trip to the Quartermasters (normally it would have been a given but under the circumstances it merited a little scene!) they set off.

'Getting There' was one of their set Challenges, so I put in a French cavalry patrol to harass them. Rather than signal a retreat, Kerri grabbed the bull by the horns and we entered the new extended Skirmish Rules (with added Cavalry options no less!). The British outnumbered the French so they received a +2 mod and there was no territorial advantage. I stated that this would be a short 2-phase engagement. Kerri ordered Sgt. Potter to Form Square and then Volley! and Steve proceeded to bark out orders. The French orders were two Passing Charges. In the two phases the British won 7 to 1 (!) and Captain Lonsdale easily won the Command Challenge, winning the battle and seeing off the French with barely a scratch. One of the Military Mission challenges was accomplished. And there was much looting for colour!

They proceeded to Castranostra, the village on the ford where they met with the local priest who explained the lay of the land. Kerri decided that Ensign Spencer had to be around here somewhere and she stated that her challenges would be (Investigate Castranostra, Investigate Benevente, Find Ensign Spencer, Tell Lady Spencer). She had a Challenge with the priest and won, so she found out that the Ensign was in Benevente. Pike also befriended the Priest and convinced him that, despite not being a catholic, he would like to attend mass that evening.

Whilst Potter laid the boulders and spikes on the ford to break up the inevitable French column, the others went to Benevente. Jenkins sought out the Monastary but he failed in his challenge to persuade the monks to give him some brandy. So far he had failed three times to get even one of his four challenges ... it really wasn't looking good.

Pike and Lonsdale met with Rodriguez, the leader of the local Guerrillas (and the brother of Jenkin's wife, Maria!) Rodriguez was not happy that Jenkins was here because it inevitably meant that Maria was being brought near danger. Lonsdale was then shown to the Inn where she was presented with the injured Lt. The Lord Percival - the officer in charge of the lost patrol. A wonderful - and pivotal - scene occured where Lonsdale asserted his rank over Percivals noble title and threats of retribution from Horseguards in order to release the men who were tending the injured officer to aid in the battle. Kerri decided that this should be a double challenge, authored into the main military mission 'Get the Guerillas on side' as the fifth challenge, and then included that with her personal challenge to get Ensign Spencer out of there. She won and the Ensign was released into her control whilst the Guerillas were happy to aid in the battle, impressed by Lonsdales fighting oratory! Lonsdale immediately sent Spencer as a piquet to watch for French cavalry. It was a move to keep him out of danger but in the end it saved their skins!

Pike wanted to attend mass but he was under orders to stand guard. He attempted to bribe another private to do his watch and baulked when I said it would be a Larceny check ... a skill he did not possess. Still, he flipped his one card (testing the unskilled rules!) and a Joker appeared. He slipped away and attended mass, fulfilling his short two challenge mission (gaining +1 diplomacy as a result)



  • We cut forward to the battle scene and broke out the Skirmish rules again.

    First off, the French opened up with their two light cannon, peppering Castranostra and killing thirteen redcoats. The players had a decision to make - they knew that the French outnumbered them (and thus would have an advantage in the battle) but we had agreed that the Guerilla forces would negate that advantage. They wanted to send the Guerillas to harry the artillery off the field, but that would mean they surrendered their numerical balance. After a little thought, it was declared that the cannon needed to be silenced - and this would be their final sixth Challenge for the military mission. Cards were flopped and the guns were run off the field, making way for the imposing French column, marching on the ford!

    We decided that the French outnumbered the British this time, but that the spikes and boulders in the ford as well as the cover of the village would give the British territorial superiority, so everything was even.

    This time there was a LOT of discussion about the order of battle and what would be best. I stated that they could start in Line Formation and didn't need to script that, which seemed to settle things down a little.

    Guns fired, orders were screamed and men died on both sides. Private Pike was injured and then rallied beneath the flag, Sergeant Potter took a bullet but Jenkins took the opposition officer out of the action and eventually the French reached the ford and the Captain had to change the Volley! command scripted to Bayonet Charge! (losing one card in the final Command test). The two sides clashed and then the signal fire was heard from the piquets and the French cavalry came charging down the defenders side of the river! Ensign Spencer saved the day!!

    Now everyone - and in the end Kerri - had a big decision. If they fell back and formed line they could probably see off the French column, but they would be ravaged by the cavalry. If they fell back and formed square, they would hold off the horses, but would be savaged by withering infantry fire. Kerri hollered 'FORM SQUARE!' and the final rolls were made. I let them contest the infantry vs cavalry full charge roll and then I let them take an unopposed volley of musket fire. (And as it was unopposed I ruled on the fly that the normal 'unnamed infantry die first' rule to be waived - harsh, but fair I thought)

    They saw off the horse but then they were peppered with musket balls. Pike was injured again, as was Jenkins. Lonsdale stood unscathed but Sergeant Potter caught a critical. He was already Injured and without a Cheat Death or Flesh Wound to his name he died (Injured + Maimed result from a crit = death)

    At this point, for drama and time constraints, the 15th Dragoons appeared on the crest of the hill and sabres flashing they drove into the battle, ending it.

    In the denoument, Sgt. Potter was buried on the plains of Spain days before Wellington broke the French at Salamanca. Jenkins never got his brandy and his currency dropped with the regimental rank and file as a result. Lonsdale returned Ensign Spencer to Lady Spencer completing his Personal Mission and cementing her passion for him. Everyone who was alive succeeded in the Military Mission and gained Reputation with Colonel Jeffers and the Dragoons who experienced their brave defence.

    What Did I Learn?:

    Well, it all went rather well, to be honest. I still think that it takes a little too long to get into the game for someone who knows precious little about the setting. A crib sheet, akin the Players Primer that Malcolm has added to Hot War would seem necessary.

    I baulked a little when Steve asked to have a Soldiering test in a Skirmish for his action (Keeping the men firing steady and fast - bite, spit, prime, tap, aim, fire etc) but it made sense. Thats something that I hadn't seen coming but it was perfectly thematically appropriate. A good sidebar suggestion!

    Cannon fire should cause a Discipline test for the commander in the same way as a Full Charge does for Cavalry. That was a simple omission.

    I found myself suggesting to the players when they could be bringing their Missions into the tests and turning them into Challenges. That could have done with a little more explanation maybe on my part.

    All in all though, it was a great session and I got a lot of positive feedback from the players.

  • I'm so gutted that I missed this! Argh
  • I'm glad you had a successful playtest. Some questions:

    You know one of my concerns about the game is the officer/enlisted dichotomy, and it seems from your example here that indeed Lonsdale got more screen time than anyone else. He certainly had the most interesting stuff to do. Pike's personal mission seems passive and sort of weak - was that player authored or pre-generated? Potter's, too, really. Am I off the mark in terms of officer's having more screen time and story weight? How did it feel in play?
  • The missions were pre-generated and any weakness would have been on my part rather than the players.

    In actual play Jenkins probably had the most in-play screen-time, then Lonsdale then Pike and then Potter. (I think I have missed some of Jenkin's unsuccessful attempts to progress his mission - it was like a Carry On Comedy at times as he is a very proficient thief as a character but he couldn't catch a break!) Potter's player was heavily involved in the planning of the mission and the Skirmish scenes. Pike's Mission was lightweight, as I wanted to test out a short mission as opposed to a longer one.

    In retrospect, yes, there might be a slight bias towards the officer rather than keeping things equal and that could be altered with stronger missions. I have to say it didn't feel like that in play, nor did any of the players comment that they felt short changed by the way the game played out. With more time (we only had two and a half hours to fit everything in because of clashing with a ccg tournament that they wanted to play in!) the balance would have been more apparent.

    I'll note as well that neither Pike nor Jenkins' players had played a game with any form of narrative control before and it took them a while to get into the fact that they could effectively 'create their own adventure' (as one of them put it). That might have effected the balance a little.

    Needless to say, Jason, it's something that I am constantly watching out for. The fiction the game is based upon serves this balance in parts but my next endeavour (the seagoing version) has an even greater split in real world authority and I am going to have to be super-careful how I manage that.

    Cheers for the comments and the continued interest!

  • You know I'm looking forward to this, Neil.
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