The objective is simple. In the doorway to the village Church is a dead ‘vagrant’ and in his pocket are stolen plans detailing the manufacture of German troop-carrying dirigibles. How the vagrant came by the plans no-one knows, however both the Society of Thule and the Prince of Wales’s Extraordinary Company have rushed men to the village to retrieve these vital documents.
Stilbourne is a sleepy village just north of the Sussex Downs. It is small, consisting of only a dozen houses, a pub, a small shop and the Norman Church of St Mary of Wallingham, the patron saint of Bee Keepers.
The Society of Thule have been dropped into the woods behind the Church by Dirigible. Their force consists of Count Otto von Ströheim (Leadership 2, Fearless, with a Magneto-static Waistcoat, C96 Machine Pistol which counts as a Carbine, Sabre, All-electric Limb Prosthesis and an Arc Generator), his bodyguard Feldwebel Krieg (Tough, Strongman, with Brigandine, Fighting Knife and Flamethrower), the sinister Dr. Kobalt (Leadership 1, Engineer, with a Lined Coat, Arc Pistol and Arc Generator) and four Jägers (Bayonet Drill, with Lined Coat, Military Rifle, Bayonet and Revivifier).
On the outskirts of the village is the Prince of Wales Extraordinary Company who have raced here on borrowed bicycles from Bunbury station some six miles away. They are led by the dashing Captain Napier (Leadership 2, Fearless, with SRC Breastplate, Pistol & Sabre) and the stalwart Sergeant Borrage (Leadership 1, Bayonet Drill, Marksman & Tough, with Brigandine, Military Rifle & Bayonet). Because of their mode of transport they could not bring their Maxim gun with them and so the six Riflemen (Bayonet Drill, one is a Marksman) have only their normal arms (Brigandine, Military Rifle & Bayonet, Grenades). They are accompanied by an old army Surgeon – Doctor Wilson (Medic, with Lined Coat & Pistol).
Most of the villagers are away at the Bunbury Horse Fair. Reg Duckworth, the Landlord of the Stilbourne Arms, is asleep in his garden and the local Curate, Peter Binns, is preparing the Church for the bell-ringing later that day. He came into the Church through the Vestry and has not yet noticed the corpse at the front door.
The ‘Landscape’ is an English Village, which is not in the rulebook but one we invented ourselves for this game (we had the terrain pieces to hand). Landscapes are a key feature of the rules and guide players in setting up an interesting and dynamic battlespace. Different landscapes have varying benefits and hazards which can impact upon play. The benefits of this landscape are low walls and hedges giving reasonable cover. The hazards include the fact that most of the locals own shotguns and know how to use them should stray fire come through their windows. Most of the houses are of medieval cruck-frame construction and have inflammable thatched roofs. The Church is stoutly constructed of stone, with a chest high stone wall around the Churchyard in which it sits. The Churchyard itself has many fine headstones and several crypts, all providing solid cover.
The game begins with the two gentlemen players shaking hands and agreeing the types of cover and visibility in the Village.
After a modicum of gentlemanly banter play begins with the first initiative roll. Captain Napier wins having rolled 6 and added 2 for his Leadership, against the Count’s paltry roll of 3, to which he also adds 2.
Napier begins moving his Riflemen up the Bunbury road. He alternates his movement with that of the Count, each taking turns to move one man at a time. The Jägers move out of the woods and hotfoot it across Maples Meadow to the rear wall of the Churchyard. This alternating method ensures that both players are fully engaged with every twist and tactical turn of each phase. By the end of the first turn’s movement all four Jägers have reached the Churchyard wall. The Count, Krieg and Dr. Kobalt are a few paces behind. There is a whiff of ozone as the sinister Prussian scientist fires up his Arc Generator (von Ströheim’s runs constantly to power his limb prosthesis).
Napier’s men have all finished their movement by hopping over garden walls to gain the cover they afford. Borrage is on the right of the road with Private Davies, both are Marksmen and from their new position each can draw a bead straight up through the Churchyard gate to the front door of the Church. The range is long but they fancy their chances. Napier is on the left hand side and has remained in the road where he is using a cart for cover. He has drawn his father’s pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sabre and Mark I Webley Service Revolver, a sure sign that his gut tells him that something is awry. There is no shooting or fighting so the turn ends.
This time the Count wins the initiative so presses one of his Jägers forwards at a run to gain a good position by a crypt, from where he can see the Church door and the Churchyard gate. Napier then waves Borrage forwards to get a better position. The two players alternate moving their figures again until all the figures that can move have had the opportunity to do so. At the end of the movement phase all of the Count’s men are in the Churchyard, including Dr. Kobalt who is staying close to the four Jägers. The Count and Krieg have moved nearer to the gate leaving themselves a bit in the open. Napier’s men have continued their advance again using the gardens walls as cover. Borrage and Davies are now on top of a parked hay wagon and can see across the whole Churchyard.
Inside the Church, Curate Binns continues his preparations whistling merrily as he does so. In the pub garden Reg restfully dozes in his chair.
Now several figures are both close enough and have targets to shoot at. As the Count won the initiative so he orders one of his Jägers to try and dislodge Borrage and Davies from the ‘high ground’. The Jäger shoots with his Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle but misses by a mile, only rolling a 2. Nevertheless he puts a neat hole through the Pub sign. Borrage returns fire with his MLM (magazine Lee-Metford) rifle but having moved himself, and the Jäger also having moved he misses, despite his excellent marksmanship. And so it goes with all but one shot going wide. A Jäger rolls a 10 and, despite having moved, manages to equal poor Private Davies armour value. Davies rolls exactly equal to his Pluck; he is therefore knocked down and lands in a groaning heap at the rear of the wagon.
There is still no fighting so the turn ends. Reg has woken up at the rattle of gunfire in his village. He is a veteran of the march to Khartoum and knows exactly what the noise is. Inside the Church the Curate hears nothing.
Napier snatches back the initiative by one point. He immediately runs for the Churchyard gate and orders his Riflemen to follow him with their P1888 bayonets fixed. Doc Wilson runs over to Private Davies who, with the old medic’s assistance, manages to get back up. Feldwebel Krieg steps into the gateway with his flamethrower lit and ready to fire. Napier has never felt so alone as he is but three paces from the deadly Prussian. Behind him the Count steps forward to support his bodyguard and the Jägers move closer to the Churchyard wall, keeping low as they run. Dr. Kobalt begins to search through the vagrant’s pockets.
As he has the initiative Napier can now choose which of his men shoots first. He could engage Krieg with his pistol, he is well within range and is a fair shot. Instead he lets Borrage take the shot. This is a wise move because both Napier and Krieg have moved, piling double penalties onto the shooting roll. Borrage, however, has not moved and has been drawing a bead on the hulking Prussian NCO, so he only takes the penalty for Krieg moving. The Marksman’s shot rings true hitting Krieg square in the chest. There is a hush as the Count rolls for Krieg’s Pluck and the veteran soldier makes it. The bullet passes clean through his left shoulder, luckily missing the regulator valve for his flamethrower. Despite the wound Krieg just laughs and opens fire in return.
Napier is relieved as the Feldwebel doesn’t choose to toast him where he stands. Instead, with Prussian military efficiency, Krieg sets the entire hay wagon alight. Borrage also rolls his Pluck exactly and is deemed to have thrown himself clear off the back with his uniform jacket alight. Napier then raises his Webley and puts a bullet clean through Krieg’s left eye. After an awful Pluck roll the tough Prussian tumbles to the ground.
In next few seconds firing alternates between the Jägers and British Riflemen but no-one gets a solid hit. The Count though raises his C96 and hits Napier in the right arm. After a remarkable pluck roll the Captain survives though his hand is soon red with his blood.
Napier gets the initiative again. He compassionately moves Doctor Wilson first over to Borrage who is rolling on the floor trying to extinguish the flames (having failed his Pluck roll to get back up). The dastardly Count moves backwards towards the Church door leaving the way clear for his Jägers to assault. In alternate moves four Riflemen and Jägers rush into contact and cross bayonets.
Private Davies steps around the side of the blazing hay wagon and raises his rifle ready to fire. Napier assists one of his men in engaging a Jäger. Dr. Kobalt abandons his search, leaves the corpse by the door and hurries over to get close by the melee and hunkers down behind the headstone of Major Matthias Cooke 1620-1645, who fell at Naseby in the English Civil War. Why he has done so shall soon become apparent. Borrage fails to get up even with the Doctor’s help and the two spend the rest of the turn putting out the flames.
The Shooting phase begins with Davies expertly shooting von Stroheim in the back, his marksman talent meaning he ignores the cover given by an intervening headstone. Unfortunately the Count is made of strong stuff, a lot of it being brass and clockwork, and he passes his Pluck test easily. In response the Count fires his C96 at the Rifleman who is standing alongside Napier. It is an excellent shot and the Rifleman dies throwing himself in front of his beloved Captain. Napier shoots the Jäger in front of him through the belly and is satisfied to see the man drop like a stone. The only unengaged Rifleman tries to shoot Dr. Kobalt but the round pings off the good Major Cooke’s headstone.
Then the fighting begins. Napier is no longer in contact with any enemy so instead he mutters a brief prayer for Rifleman Geordie Jackson who lies at his feet. One of his Riflemen rolls a 10 and guts the Jäger engaging him. Of the other two fights one ends in stalemate and in the other a Jäger stuns a Rifleman with his rifle butt (the Rifleman rolling exactly his Pluck).
This turn von Ströheim rolls a 10 and convincingly takes the initiative.
In the Movement phase he reaches the Church doorway and the vagrant. Doctor Wilson finally succeeds in putting out the flames on Sgt Borrage who staggers to his feet working the bolt on his rifle and swearing fit to make a navvy blush. Napier runs past the downed Jäger and makes for von Ströheim, keen to avenge Private Jackson.
Behind him the ‘dead’ Jäger gets up, his Revivifier kicking in and feeding foul energies into his bloodied form. Kobalt cackles in glee as his arc generator does its job. The former Jäger, now a Tod-truppen, moves after Napier and readies its rifle like a club. Private Davies rubs his eyes in horrified amazement but takes aim at the Tod-truppen anyway. The other dead Jäger also rises as a Tod-truppen and re-engages with his killer. Private Wilkin makes his Pluck roll to stay in contact with the Terrifying creature before him. The unengaged Rifleman, Private Harrington, does not make his Pluck roll and he stands where he is shaking and mumbling in terror. No good Christian boy should have to face such horrors.
Shooting begins with von Ströheim missing Napier with his C96. Napier though is more interested in the Tod-Truppen following him up the Church path. He levels his Webley and coolly shoots the horror through its left shoulder joint, blowing the limb clean off. The Tod-truppen looks down at the gory stump but ignores this first wound. Dr Kobalt also fires at Napier with his Arc Pistol but misjudges the distance and his shot grounds harmlessly two inches from the brave Captain’s back. Note: this is a game where gentlemanly sportsmanship requires us not to pre-measure before shooting. Normally a figure must wait a turn to recharge an Arc weapon, but the sinister Doctor has his own Arc Generator so it recharges immediately.
Outside the Churchyard Borrage takes aim and, despite having moved, blows the menacing Tod-truppen’s head apart, leaving his Captain free. In game terms the Tod-truppen failed its Pluck roll and the Numb talent only works for the first hit. Private Davies has less luck with the other Tod-truppen, rolling a natural 1. Now this is a potential fumble so Davies rolls again, if he gets another 1 his weapon shall be unusable for the rest of the game. Fortunately he rolls a 2 and frees the jammed cartridge.
In combat the Count sets the surviving Tod-truppen on one of the Riflemen in front of him. The Prussian abomination makes short work of Private Wilkins ripping his still-beating heart out of his chest as the Tod-truppen rolls a 9 to hit and the Private’s resulting Pluck roll is a miserable 2. The remaining combats between Jägers and Riflemen is a draw with only Private Robinson being wounded but the chap making his pluck roll admirably.
Napier wins the initiative and decides to deal with the remaining Tod-truppen himself. Von Ströheim searches the vagrant’s body and finds the plan-tube just as the Curate comes through the Church door to complain about all the hubbub. Borrage and Davies, no longer having viable targets, fix bayonets and run to the Church gate. Doctor Wilson follows them, drawing his pistol. The only unengaged Rifleman, Private Harrington, works his way around the combats and gets to within six inches of the Church door. There is a hard and desperate look on his face which does not bode well for anyone who gets in his way.
Shooting begins with Harrington hurling a grenade into the Church porch. It is a good throw and it explodes right between von Ströheim and the surprised Curate. When the smoke and dust clears the Curate has collapsed in a bloody heap across the now smouldering vagrant. Count von Ströheim is still standing though his ears are ringing. Dr Kobalt fires again at Napier but misses him completely despite now being in range. For his troubles he is blasted with a shotgun from the enraged Reg from the Churchyard wall closest to the Pub. The players earlier agreed to roll a dice to see which side Reg comes in on. He is wearing his old Coldstream Guards tunic and a manic grin. A confused Kobalt slumps down against Major Cooke’s headstone having failed his pluck roll, mumbling “wo kommt er her?” (lit. where did he come from?).
Napier engages the free Tod-truppen first shooting it through the heart with his Webley and following up with a deep sabre slash across the belly. The Tod-truppen stumbles and ignores the first hit (being Numb) but fails the pluck roll for the second and collapses. It would have made it but for the pluck penalty imposed by the pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry Sabre wielded by Napier. In the other two combats Private Robinson’s luck runs out and his neck is broken by one of the Tod-truppen.
Things are now heading for a bloody conclusion. The wily Count has the plans and wins the initiative.
He strides purposefully out of the Church porch and grabs the bleeding form of Kobalt with his mechanical arm before heading away from the melee. The two remaining Jägers both successfully disengage from their combats (making pluck rolls to do so) and move to a position where the only way to get to von Ströheim is through them. Napier assaults one of the Jägers with the aid of Borrage, while Privates Davies and Harrington do likewise with the other one. Doctor Wilson moves into the Churchyard but doesn’t quite reach the downed Rifleman, who fails to get up by himself. Reg moves around the edge of the Churchyard trying to get a clear shot at von Ströheim but finds himself out of range. Private Richards though is in range. There is a hush as he takes aim at the retreating Count. Unfortunately Richards is not a marksman like Davies and the intervening cover stops his shot.
We then move to the fighting phase. Napier cuts the Jäger down where he stands. The other Jäger manages to bayonet young Private Davies before being clubbed to the ground by Private Harrington.
In Turn Eight von Ströheim makes good his escape when he gets the initiative again and the dead Jägers arise as Tod-truppen to stall Napier’s men. The Tod-truppen are only just in range of Kobalt’s arc generator when they rise so on the next turn they will collapse as their Revivifiers needs its continuous power transmission. The Count doesn’t even break stride as he guns down Reg before the old soldier can bring his shotgun to bear.
The whole game took forty-five minutes to play and afterwards we rolled to see if any of the ‘dead’ figures survived to fight again. Pluck rolls were made and Doctor Wilson was able to save both Private Davies and the brave Reg Duckworth. When Napier returned to the Churchyard gate whereupon he found that Feldwebel Krieg had managed to drag himself away as well. High above, on his personal dirigible, von Ströheim handed the body of Kobalt to his surgeon who managed to shock some life back into his frail form.
The players then retired to the Billiard Room for Port and medals – and to recount the legend of The Stilbourne Incident.
No dice were harmed in the making of this report.