Dawns & Departures: The Return of Captain Fondler
“Ah, Captain Fondler, just the man. We’ve just been discussing you, haven’t we Major?” Sir Arthur Wellesley turned to the portly man several yards away who was helping himself to a decanter on a well-stocked drinks trolley. Even though Major Michael O’Stereotype was a shadowy figure known to few outside the General’s own retinue Fondler recognised him instantly. The shabby blue jacket, of a pattern once worn by officers of the Engineers, gave little clue as to his role and masked the fact that the portly Irishman was responsible for a good deal of the information which found its way into Portugal from Spain. For the Rifleman currently commanding the Light Company of the West Sussex Regiment, recognition came with a tinge of concern as several close encounters in the past had resulted in narrow escapes from almost certain death. He nodded his recognition.
“You’ll take a drop, to be sure, Dick”. It was not a question. A glass of brandy, full to the brim, was thrust into Fondler’s hand.
“A plague on Boney!” Sir Arthur proposed a toast and they drank, the rough Spanish vintage burning their throats before warming their bellies. As one, they sighed their appreciation of the fiery spirit as their glasses were placed, empty, before them on the trestle table, momentarily unable to speak.
It was the General who recovered first.
“Now Dick, you’ll know the talk about the lines. The men reckon we are getting ready to march northwards…” Sir Arthur raised a knowing eyebrow “…and they are right. It’s probably the worst kept secret in Portugal and I have no doubt that in Galicia Marshall Chirac will be very much aware of it too. But there it is. We can do nothing about that and it is my hope that when we reach Santiago de Compostella they will be able to do little about us!” He chuckled, a man sure that success would be his in the ensuing foray into French held territory.
“What they can do, and this concerns me more, is threaten our lines of communication and supply by a rapid thrust from the East. I do not fear a major offensive, as the French are too damned tied down with the guerrillas, but even a small force could cross the Cerrado river at Camino could disrupt the advance of Leamington’s column which has been assigned to take that route through the mountains”.
“What is to be my role in all this sir?” The rifleman interjected.
“I was coming to that, Fondler. Be patient man! Major O’Stereotype, bring that map if you would sir.”
“To be sure I will your Grace.” The Irishman put down the bottle he had been eyeing with some enthusiasm and grasped a stained but expansive map, much of it drawn by hand, unfolding its creases as he placed it before the General. “ I have marked the latest dispositions which I was able to ascertain on my last trip North, but they will be a week old by now. However, the good news is that Marshal Chirac has returned to Paris, so we shall not need to face that slippery fox.”
“The Marshall has gone?”
“Aye sir, but there is, I fear, bad news”
“Out with it Major. How bad can it be?”
“The Marshall has been replaced by a man known for his love of the bottle and his hatred of the English; Marshall Juncker, Duc de Cognac.”
“My God, not him!”
“Indeed. Apparently he has been sent to ensure that the Spanish comply with the Continental System and exclude Britain from all trade. However, he has seized sufficient power to see all French forces put under his control. It is his intention to do as much damage to England as he might.”
“Good Lord, our friends in Europe should look carefully at those who would seek to rule them.”
“To be sure, Sir Arthur, you’re not the first one to make such a point.”
“Well, then we must push on. We cannot be seen to surrender in the face of such brazen threats. Let us take the fight into Spain and our Allies there, and who knows elsewhere, will see how Britain stands for liberty and stands against tyrants. Captain Fondler, take your Light Company and move to the East to stop any interference from that quarter. I shall then lead our columns through the mountain and pay my respects to the Duc de Cognac. I doubt he will enjoy our meeting!”
This text is not just the deranged ramblings of an under-exercised mind, but it is the implicit announcement of the return of a great Lard Island hero; Captain Richard Fondler. For the uninitiated, Richard Fondler began his service as a militiaman in Ireland before joining the colours and fighting in India as an enlisted man. There he saved the life of a certain Arthur Wellesley, a man who apparently made a habit of such things. Commissioned from the ranks, he Joined the 95th Rifles, first as a recruiting officer and then, having requested active service, as an assistant quartermaster. It was in that role that he witnessed at first hand the retreat on Coruna under Sir John Moore and, once again, found himself gain a certain notoriety when he fought off pursuing French dragoons and succeeded in leading a party of riflemen across the mountains into Portugal and safety.
His career from that point on was never dull, although he constantly was obliged to face the slings and arrows of a mess made up of gentlemen and nobility; an ensemble into which he, as the bastard child of a Bristol barmaid, could never fit comfortably. However, what Richard Fondler lacked in manners and etiquette he repaid in full in courage and sheer bloody-mindedness which refused to recognise defeat.
First into the breach at Badajoz, commanding the rearguard after Bucaco, defending La Haye Sainte at Waterloo, Fondler’s exploits kept him constantly in the eye of the Duke of Wellington and led to his unusual role as trusted Lieutenant to the great General, undertaking many secret missions, such as the rescue of the Marques de Una Paloma Blanca and the recovery of the San Domingo gold. Indeed, such activities saw Fondler fall foul of Colonel Laroux of the French Imperial Guard Intelligence Service and a long-lasting enmity ensued.
What we do know of Fondler’s career is that there is much still to discover, especially in the period 1809 to 1814 as what information we can glean from the first volume of his exploits “The Compleat Fondler” (eighteen scenarios available here: https://toofatlardies.co.uk/product/the-compleat-fondler/ cannot possibly be the limits of his experience. Indeed, using Dawns & Departures we can now set out to discover more of Richard Fondler’s experiences and adventures. Indeed, the dogrel at the top of this piece represents the introduction to our first such campaign and an opportunity for us to see how Dawns & Departures works.
A New Campaign
It goes without saying that, whilst Sharp Practice is well-shaped to handle any conflict in the black powder era, the Peninsular War is where most people think of it coming into its own. Indeed, when we play tested the first edition of the rules we ran an extensive campaign covering that theatre and the exploits of the afore-mentioned Fondler. One of the reasons for writing Dawns & Departures was that we wanted more and we wanted it to be in a format where we did not have to wait for Pint-Sized campaigns to arrive in order to generate our next outing. With the wide range of conflicts covered by the rules, Dawns & Departures needed to be capable of covering many different theatres and allowing us to create a campaign in short order. Let’s take a look how this campaign was generated in less than fifteen minutes.
Step One –The Map
The first step was to create our map. As the campaign was to be set in northern Portugal, we used the Southern Europe Table. We rolled for the eight central areas first before then rolling for the sixteen adjacent areas. Following that we diced for the town, village and monastery to see how they were located (in Southern Europe you are more likely to get hill-top villages than in northern Europe) and finally we diced for rivers. The resulting map looked like this:
Now, a caveat here. I DID spend rather more than twenty minutes drawing the map up, but the images I have used will now go into a library of drawings so that in future I can just drop these onto the 8 x 3 template. In truth, this isn’t needed, but I like to have a reasonably pretty map, so this sufficed for me.
The Campaign Background
Next I needed to roll 2D6 for the scenario, cross-referencing the results. There are 18 set campaign backgrounds and, allowing for the fact that the map creation system allows almost infinite variety, it can pretty much be said that you have more chance of winning the lottery than duplicating a campaign twice. Anyway, I rolled up the “Screen the Army” campaign background which sees one side moving its main army with the knowledge that enemy forces on the flank could interfere with this advance. As a result they have sent a small force to serve as a screen. The French must push through this screen and harass the main advance in order to scupper Sir Arthur’s plans.
On our map, the British player knows that friendly forces will be moving across the map, from right to left, arriving somewhere in the area of the town mountain village of San Dore de Merzula before passing Varitas de Merluza and then onwards towards Galicia. The screening force, the focus of this campaign, is to advance up the map to form a screen to stop any enemy moving down contacting the main body. What they don’t know is when, exactly, the main body will arrive, not what forces they are up against.
Our next step will be to select our forces from the Army Lists and then produce our list of support options available for the players. I plan to use two Army lists from the main rule set, but I am not going to announce which yet as I want the players to have some surprises when they make contact. The very fact that I am going to be following the campaign here will mean that some elements of surprise and uncertainty will be missing as I am broadcasting what is going on here. That said, I would like to maintain some secrets for as long as possible before all is revealed. In fact, this campaign is a pretty good one for this purpose as the two sides have objective which are pretty much diametric opposites. This is not the case in all of the campaigns, with some seeing some very sneaky and secret backgrounds.
As for support options; in theory, the British can select anything from the British, Spanish and Portuguese Army Rosters whereas the French have their own lists. However, I am going to allow them to select from the Vistula Legion List which we will be posting next week. However, my collection of toys is not boundless, so I will be placing some limits on what options can be chosen, albeit allowing for a bit of painting to flesh out the forces where necessary. We will look at that next time.
For now, we can see that in about ten minutes we have been able to create our campaign environment and discover what the mission is for both sides. That’s not a bad start, thanks to Dawns & Departures.