Saturday 19 December 2020

"This Ain't Kafiristan" Three...

Final (for the moment) Thoughts.

The Simple (Film) Option:

In the previous posts I scattered some thoughts which might be used, tweaked or combined to help put a game together based on the "The Man Who Would be King" adventure. Following that theme, this post is throwing up a simple, stylised version of same, looking primarily at the world of the movie - rather than "reality" or the original novella - to generate scenarios and for folks to pick n' mix, or to spark folks' thoughts..


Really simple concept. In the movie, once the protagonists actually arrive in the first Kafiristan valley, and slap the assailants of the folk of  Er-Heb, they get a foot in the door. We will start at this point. They have arrived at Er-Heb, been fĂȘted, and thus have a military force at their disposal. All that remains is to achieve their ambitions...

The Protagonists:

The main protagonists are the British "Gentlemen at Large" Dravot & Carnehan.
They are both courageous, good shots, good-at-hand to hand and are inspiring leaders Dravot in attack and 
Carnehan in defence. The Player is representing or playing in their interest.

They have partner in their adventure; Billie Fish (in the original story a local chief, but in the film a Gurkha rifleman - lone survivor of a lost expedition). He also is courageous, a good shot, expert at hand-to-hand and is an inspiring leader in attack. He can act as a subordinate commander; leading armies and taking Settlements. He is fiercely honourable and loyal, and so can also be put in charge of Loot Mules.


Establish a "Kingdom" by getting control of all of the secular settlements on the map - while maintaining good relations with the priests at Sikandergul - OR to obtain and exit the map with Loot to the value of £30,000.

Control of individual Settlements may be obtained by getting them to Surrender on Terms by intimidating them (defeating their defensive forces in battle or killing, demoralising or capturing their Chief) or capturing them by totally defeating their forces.

The Map and Movement:

The map is a stylised location-to-location map. The protagonists and their forces  move along the red lines from location (Settlement Zone) to location to force control of same, or to move the heroes off the map to safety with any loot (the red lines leading off the map. Once the map has been left no returning is allowed.

Sikandergul itself is a sacred site and as such cannot be controlled by military means. It can only be visited by the protagonists if they are alone or when only accompanied by mules, Billie Fish and/or "The Rifles".

All Zones and routes are considered equal for Movement Purposes (however, see below re. Passes and terrain)

The heroes may only move THROUGH uncontrolled Settlement Zones under certain conditions. These are:

1) When they have been summoned to Sikandergul by the priesthood

2) When escaping from Sikandergul

3) When sneaking off the map with Loot 

In the last two cases they may be subject to Interception. Again, they can only  carry out the above actions when alone or when only accompanied by mules, Billie Fish and/or "The Rifles" (see below). 

Armies/forces can only move when with one of the protagonists. 

rmies cannot move THROUGH any uncontrolled Settlement Zone at any time. They must halt on reaching such a Zone and may only stay in such a Zone if they they are making an attempt to take the Settlement.

When moving towards an Uncontrolled Settlement Zone there is a chance that Armies will be intercepted, confronted or even ambushed en-route by the Settlement's own forces (see "Interception and Ambush" below) .

Actions and Time Scale:

Pretty arbitrary, to be frank, as this is a stylised system; say one move equals one month. This doesn't so much reflect actual travel time, but the whole hassle of doing ANYTHING here in the Backwoods of the Hindu Kush ("A fool lies here, Who tried to hustle the East."). Time is really only relevant in keeping track of when Winter arrives, and the passes are closed (see below).

Each Move the heroes can do all or any of the following:

1) Individually or together move from one Settlement Zone to another Settlement Zone. This can be done alone, with an Army or other forces or just with mules, in accordance to the restrictions above. 

2) Dispatch Loot to Sikandergul; this only has to be "dispatched"; there is no need to keep track of its progress. It WILL arrive safely. Credit for doing this is immediate (everyone knows what you've done..).

3) Fight as many battles as are relevant in the Movement being undertaken (e.g. the Army, with no Baggage Train, moves from Kamdesh to Bagindra. It is ambushed in the forest, but brushes the enemy aside without significant loss to either party, it is again intercepted in the hills above the forest, and again pushes the enemy away without a major fight. There is a third, more decisive, victorious skirmish in the hills above Bagindra. On arrival at Bagindra itself a test is made and the Settlement surrenders on terms. This is all ONE move.) 

4) Retrace their steps to a Controlled Settlement if defeated in battle en route or in an Uncontrolled Settlement Zone (in the above example if, on arrival at Bagindra, they failed to take the Settlement and therefore had to retreat to a Controlled Settlement this would still only count as ONE move).

Thus in a single move each of the protagonists, Dravot and Carnehan - and their co-conspirator, Billie Fish, could EACH:

1) Move independently to different Zones (with or without different forces) or by different routes to the SAME Settlement Zone - fighting as necessary.

2) Dispatch Loot as a gift to Siknadergul.

3) "Retreat" to a Controlled Settlement Zone following a repulse/defeat.   

Note: a Force or Army may not move other than to go and from a single Settlement Zone per move (i.e. it cannot be "picked up" by one protagonist and moved again).

The Seasons:

The game starts in April. 

In October the weather starts getting worse. Throw a 1x6D each October; result of 1-3 = Normal Weather.  4-6 = Winter is early; the passes to the outside world are closed to all traffic - there is no going in or out of Kafiristan. The Madul pass is closed to all traffic.

November: Winter sets in automatically. As above but no need to test. 

December to February: No Army movement permitted at all. The passes are all closed to all traffic - there is no going in or out of Kafiristan. 

In March there is a chance of an early thaw. Throw a 1x6D; result of 1-4 = No change - it is still Winter, 5-6 = Spring weather is early. Army movement permitted and the passes are open.  

Otherwise weather is ignored (unless the Player wants to make this a factor on the Map or on the table).

Interception, Ambush, Settlements:

On arrival at an uncontrolled Settlement Zone with an Army a test must be made
on the Settlement Defence Table part of the Ambush Table. This may result in a battle, standoff or the surrender of the settlement. However, an Army may be subject to interception at Rivers, passes, Hills and Forests.

Armies having to cross a river to get to an uncontrolled settlement may be met at the river by defenders. The defenders will stand on their side of the river, making the attackers cross/attack at a disadvantage 
(see Ambush Table).

Armies having to use a route which goes over hills to get to an uncontrolled settlement may be ambushed or met by defenders in said hills. The defenders will stand on high ground to their advantage, making the attackers attack at a disadvantage or may ambush attackers while still in column of march (see Ambush Table).

Armies having to use a route which goes through forest may be ambushed from close cover while in column of rout (see Ambush Table)

The Madul Pass (on the Pashal-Apsai road) is a high mountain pass. Basically a rocky defile, so rough that no Baggage Train can go that way. Armies may pass, but are possibly subject to being blocked by defenders in the pass or ambushed if trying to get to an uncontrolled settlement (see Ambush Table) 

The Gates of Ab-Pech on the Shidgul-Kamdesh road are a series of narrows where the mountains and the river rub shoulders, with cliffs on one side and a drop to the river on the other, so that it is basically a road's width of passable terrain - and easily blocked. 
Baggage Trains may pass. If the Army is ambushed here hidden enemies will roll down rocks. They can be suppressed with rifle fire, but are otherwise unassailable. 

The Sikandergul Gorge is impassable to Armies, not least because the majority of locals will not go armed to the holy site at Sikandergul. Only the protagonists and The Rifles may visit Sikandergul.

Some routes have multiple potential trouble spots/interception points and appropriate tests should be made at each (e.g. moving to Apsai from Shui-Pashur the rout crosses a river and a range of hills. A test for interception must be made at each. On arrival at the targeted Settlement Zone a check on the Settlement Defence Table must be made. The Shui-Pashur to Pushki-Grom route has a range of hills, then a forest, then more hills, so three tests must be made en-route, then a check on the Settlement Defence Table).

As noted,  test must be made at each such point UNLESS an enemy blocking force/ambushing force has already been totally annihilated or reduced to less than a third during a previous interception (rather than, say, just having been forced to retreat). In these cases only a test on the Settlement Defence table is necessary - the defenders being too intimidated to attempt another Interception. 

A force with no Baggage Train must fall back to a friendly Settlement Zone if it fails to take the targeted Settlement. 

A force 
failing to take a targeted Settlement but in possession of a Baggage Train may remain in situ and attempt to take the Settlement the following move. If it fails it must fall back to a friendly Settlement Zone 

If a force takes a Settlement Zone it must stay there at the end of that move. It can move elsewhere on the following move.

The Military Situation:

As mentioned above, it is assumed that our heroes have already established themselves at Er-Heb.

From the film it looks like they set out on their first battle with their trained  riflemen (18no. plus Peachy and Billy Fish - given they start with 20 rifles), a dozen mule riders, about twenty archers and a "command group" of the Er-Heb chief, Ootah, about ten standard/umbrella bearers and musicians. 

When they fight their first battle against Bashkai the locals there seem to be able to muster about 200 or so peasantry from the town itself, roughly a fifth to a quarter of whom seem to be archers) with about 40 actual warriors (the aggressive, posturing guys in masks, with swords, shields etc. at the front).

When The Army marches out from Bashkai for further conquests it seems to have swollen to The Rifles (neither of the Europeans are carrying rifles, so lets say Billy Fish and 19 trained riflemen), fifty mule cavalry (lances/long spears and shields), then infantry in nine units of about 50 men each (what look like five units of spears, four units of what seem to be archers and/or swordsmen ?) plus musicians, supply donkeys, baggage etc. etc. (i.e. the rifles plus about 500 fighting men).

Given that this force appears after the training period it seems reasonable to assume the force above is made up of the townsfolk 
of military age of both Er-Heb and Bashkai, plus their dependant farms and hamlets. Thus it also seems reasonable to assume that the other towns/Zones could each potentially muster about half that number (i.e. about the same number as Bashkai managed in the battle there).

Because of the difficulty in feeding a large force in the terrain the above is to be regarded as the maximum size of the Army.

Losses are automatically made-up to this figure every time a Settlement Surrenders on Terms, but NOT if the Settlement is captured through direst combat. Making up losses involves the force staying in situ at the surrendered Settlement one move. Recruitment can ONLY take place the move after the Settlement is captured (i.e. a force cannot move off, having not recruited, then return to recruit, neither can another force visit subsequently and recruit).

The Baggage train is not actually "expended". It is assumed it is replenished automatically (unless destroyed by enemy action).

Building an extra Baggage Train follows the same procedure as recruiting (above). 

However, to add some randomness, on a force being ambushed or arriving at an uncontrolled Settlement Zone a test must be made to ascertain the size of the uncontrolled Zone's potential garrison as follows: 

a) Warriors: Throw 1xdD minus one, and multiply by ten for the number of "warriors"  (e.g. a throw of five means 40 warriors, a throw of one means no foot warriors)

b) Mule Cavalry: If NO warriors were produced as a result of the above throw throw 1x6d 
and multiply by five for the number of mule cavalry (e.g. a throw of five means 25 mule cavalry). In these cases the Chief and any sub-commanders will also be mounted.

However, if warriors WERE produced throw 1x6d minus two x five for the number of mule cavalry (e.g. a throw of five means 15 mule cavalry, a throw of one or two no mule cavalry)

c) Throw four 1x6D and multiply by ten. This is the number of levy/peasantry (untrained troops) available. Divide by 4 (rounding up) to get how many of these are archers/slingers. (e.g. total dice score is 16.  That is 160 troops; divided by 4 = 40 archers. 

d) Each Settlement is assumed to have a Chief and a Vizier. Throw 1x6D to see how many sub commanders the Settlement has in addition to these.

The Warriors will all be in one unit under the Chief or the Vizier. The Horse may divided into two units or in one unit can be brigaded with the Warriors 
under the Chief or the Vizier. Other foot will be in equal-size units depending on the sub-commander throw (Note: archers and other levy foot can be mixed. In situations where archers are inside the settlement they must have a sub-commander or Chief/Vizier with them). 

It looks, from the film, that the Bashkai - and presumably most other local groups - rely on the pattern typical of a lot of "primitive" warfare; consisting of intimidation and aggressive sallies by a group of highly motivated Big Men or warriors, backed by shouting, posturing, arrows and thrown stones from their "supporters". All individuals should have the ability to pick up and throw stones.

While there might be a bit of hand-to-hand when the Big Men become worked up, presumably it is only when the enemy are intimidated enough to waver or retreat that the rest of the force comes into play. Once the Big men are down or are themselves wavering, the rest of the force is likely to be vulnerable to panic flight. 

It would be easy enough to replicate this on The Table with "tribal" morale rules. 

Against them will be the drilled levies of the protagonists' forces. Although movement and Command & Control might be easier and they will feel secure against the townsfolk of the other Settlements these units may have equally brittle morale when faced with Big Men/warriors in hand to hand. Only the Riflemen (and the protagonists) seem to have the grit we associate with trained soldiers.

The Priests at Sikandergul will rank as "fanatics" in terms of sheer courage. All will be good stone throwers. All will pick up fallen weapons.


Each settlement will give 1x6D x £1,000 of Loot if it Surrenders on Terms or 2x6D if taken by force (i.e. the defenders Break in battle outside the actual Settlement or are reduced by two-thirds in a Battle of Interception) or if the Chief is captured. Personally I'd keep a record of loot gained by using tokens, rather than bookkeeping.

Loot must be carried by mules (one mule per £3,000), which must be either left in a Garrisoned* Settlement or accompany the protagonists. There is no recruiting cost or recruiting time for mules - they are just "acquired" locally.  

Puski-Grom has a turquoise mine. Any loot/tribute gained from here on the above Loot test is tripled in value.

In certain circumstances the priests at Sikandergul 
(see "Summoned to Sikandergul Table") can be duped into parting with Special Loot to the value of £90,000, carried on three mules (this is more a measure of what can be carried, rather than what might be available).

If the priests subsequently become suspicious
 all movement of the loot will be subject to the Flight Table.

(*There is no actual need to garrison settlements to maintain Control unless  there is an intent to store Loot there. However, garrisoned settlements do not revolt, and so can supply a safe Line of Retreat. To be garrisoned a settlement must contain at least one of the Protagonists or Billy Fish plus 100 other troops or at least 5 riflemen and 150 troops)

Loot can be sent to Sikandergul as a offering at any time. This buys favour with the priests (see "Summoned to Sikandergul Table").

Escaping with Loot; if it is decided to skip the country before - or after - a Summons to Sikandergul 

 Summoned to Sikandergul:

Once Bashkai has been taken there is a chance the protagonists will be summoned to Sikandergul to appear before the priests.

After Bashkai has been taken every time a Settlement falls/surrenders to the protagonists 
thereafter throw a dice, adding one to the dice for every two (total rounded down) Settlements controlled. As soon at the test result totals 10 or more Dravot and Carnehan have been summoned to appear at Sikandergul. They then have a choice:

1) Cut and run with their loot - with the possibility this may affect their Popularity and could trigger a Revolt (see Revolt Table) . 

2) Prevaricate while taking more settlements. However, this will also affect their Popularity and may precipitate a Revolt.

3) Go to Sikandergul without taking their Army along at all. They can take the riflemen and any loot, but that is all. They are considered to have been granted "safe passage" for this summons and can pass through uncontrolled settlements without effect in order to go directly to Sikandergul. Coming and going from Sikandergul are the the only times the protagonists and Rifles can pass through an uncontrolled settlement without risk. 

4) Campaign so as to take Apsai as soon as possible, then, once it has been taken, proceed to Sikandergal with the Rifles alone; leaving the Army at Apsai. However, there is a risk this will be seen as prevarication.

Billy Fish does not have to go with them, but there are advantages if he does (he has local knowledge and language skills). 


During a battle, so long as they are not at that moment themselves under attack/fire, giving orders or involved in melee, Dravot, Carneghan and Billy Fish can spend that move sniping at enemy commanders. Each snipe takes a full move. 

One could also add a "near Miss" effect. In the event Dravot or Carneghan miss at Long or Very Long range on a double when shooting at a Chief , then a person standing next to the target has been struck - or a flagpole was shattered or some similar "Oooh, THAT was bloody close" incident has taken place  - which results in a Moral Check for the Chief. If he fails this he is so spooked he orders his army (and settlement) to surrender. 


Very basic. Armies either carry their own supplies or have a Baggage Train accompanying them. 

If an Army with no baggage train marches to an uncontrolled Settlement Zone it MUST take that Settlement that map move or return to a Controlled Settlement to feed itself at the end of that move. It may move again the following move.

(Example: Friendly Army marches to Apsai from Shui-Pashur. It isn't intercepted or ambushed. The Defence Table result is that the Settlement's force stays in the Settlement. That SAME Move the Friendly Army must make its way to a Controlled Settlement).

An Army with a Baggage Train can sit outside an uncontrolled Settlement Zone for a maximum of two moves (including the move in which it approached). If it does not take the Settlement at the end of the second Move it must return to a Controlled Settlement and spend a full Move replenishing its Baggage Train.

(Example: Friendly Army marches to Apsai from Shui-Pashur. It isn't intercepted or ambushed. The Settlement Defence Table result is that the Settlement's force stays in the Settlement. That is the end of that Move for that Friendly Army. Next Move the Friendly Army should test again. It MUST take the Settlement or retreat to resupply. It does not. It must now, at the end of this second Move, make its way to a Controlled Settlement, where it must wait another full move before it can proceed further/attempt any other attack). 

Note; if an Army is in place on its second (last) move outside a Settlement (and is thus exhausting its Baggage Train this move) and it is joined by another Friendly Army with a Baggage Train that move BOTH Armies can remain in situ for the following move and make another attempt on the Settlement. If they fail in this attempt then they must BOTH return to a Controlled Settlement at the end of that move. Basically they have shared the second Army's Baggage Train to allow the First Army to stay the extra day. 

Baggage Trains will be the main target of any Ambush. They can be destroyed, and must be replaced. 

To build a new or replacement Baggage Train (not replenish an existing one) takes a full move. A protagonist must remain at a Controlled settlement for one full move and pay £2,000 in Loot to create one. 

Battles/On the Table Action: 

There are a number of situations where action can be transferred to the table:

Battles outside Settlements; when an Army arrives at an uncontrolled Settlement.

Interception Battles; when an Army is intercepted in hostile terrain while en-route to an uncontrolled Settlement.

Escape Clashes; when the heroes are trying to escape from Sikandergul or fleeing with Loot through uncontrolled Settlement zones.  

Any period Colonial skirmish rules will do and can be "solo-ised" as desired (see other posts on this blog).  

“When we’re done with you you’ll be able to stand up and slaughter your enemy like civilised men" 

In Conclusion: 

The usual (predictable?) range of thoughts above sound to me like a simple, fun game and scenario generation tool (adaptable of course to other situations).

I have yet to play-test all of this as a "package" as yet - since in theory I am in mid "other project", but but caught up with playing with this idea; hence the above (Note to self: Why have I been scouring the Web for 1.72 mules.....?)

As always, any thoughts, queries or even snipes, welcome...

Tuesday 8 December 2020

"This Ain't Kafiristan" etc. Part Two"...

Further Explorations:

Well the rabbit-hole of research gets deeper and more obscure.... 

As the amazing Schuyler Jones (helpfully?) says in his  "A bibliography of Nuristan (Kafiristan) and the Kalash Kafirs of Chitral": 

"It will be noted that the spelling of the majority of terms and place names is highly erratic. I have left them so. Lut-dib, Lut-dih, and Lutdeh, for example, all refer to the same village, the correct name of which is Baragamatal. Further, the term Lutdeh (a Chitrali word) is occasionally used to describe the entire tribal area of Katrgul or Kantoz which contains some 30 villages. Despite our efforts at clarification, the average reader is in for a puzzling time...".

You said it matey.....

People who believe in certainties when it comes to history - especially those who have tried to persuade me of certainties concerning more distant history than THIS project covers (a well documented era less than 130 years ago) - will be unsurprised to know that I am unsurprised...

All things considered therefore I have cut to the chase, and some corners, (pending more research) and produced the following. 

The Game Bits...

After the research, some thoughts on the actual gaming processes. This is still very much a work in progress/to stimulate other folks' ideas.

There are two ways of doing this project which spring immediately to mind (well, actually, more than two, but if I don't limit myself this'll never get typed up).

1) "This Ain't Kafiristan Lite": simply wargaming the political and military aspects. 

Starting with 
Dravot & Carnehan having already got their ammunition boots in the door it would be relatively simple to set up a zonal map using the Robertson map and operate a military/political campaign of controlling zones (by military actions or persuasion/demonstrations of force).

For someone wanting to simply wargame the campaign action I'd suggest looking up and adapting my "This Ain't Siluria" game suggestion/rules the other year (see my post here 20th April 2018 or the PDFs on the "Solo Wargames with Miniatures" Facebook group).

Personally I'd make a Zonal Map (see example below) and either start with Our Heroes already established as having influence over one area/tribe (or group of villages if one wanted to split the tribal areas into Zones) and work up from there. 

Map 1) Draft Rough Zonal Map. Red/brown are the zone boundaries, as per my "this Ain't Silurua" game. Blue the watersheds. Initial thoughts were to treat as impassable except in special circumstances, but reading further it looks like there is an element of "fluidity" over the watersheds; at least for small parties.  It has been difficult identifying the actual mountain passes so far - I need to plumb Robertson, McNair et al with a fine tooth-comb. The British Political Officer's reports on the Afghan invasion of 1895 seemed promising, but see below.  
Note: the above is NOT intended as an accurate map of "the real thing", but an ad hoc game map; largely because 1) period maps differ, and appear, to a degree, to be partly guesswork. 2) period accounts, especially the potentially amazingly useful Political Officer reports, are confusing - due to name changes and assumptions of reader awareness of locations, names and other data 3) useful 20thC or more modern maps have, thus far, been noticeable by their absence, but I've found a couple of useful sites (I might have got further if I read Russian) through which I am still clawing.
Given military operations in the area this millennium, there are probably useful US/NATO maps and supporting reports online not yet found. Regard, therefore, the above as a Work In Progress.

So where are we..?

We have the tribal areas (marked on the maps posted). 

We have rough ideas of period populations of most tribes, others can be guestimated, and thus we can come up with numbers of recruitable fighting men (see map 2 below. Say divide the total populations by five to get a full "levy", by 1.5% to get troops for "The Army").

We have Robertson's report, period maps and the actual Kipling story online (Project Gutenberg), plus Google Maps to guide us re. feel of the period and  terrain.

The Masonic/political/religious/aspects (if desired) could be addressed by an Events Table (example below), perhaps with tweaking the ideas set out in my "Council... What Council" post of 30th May 2018 for Councils (right click open maps/images in new tab to read them better) .

Council of Elders.

Councils MUST be called to ratify:

1) Any invasion or war on neighbouring tribe which have not themselves invaded friendly territory.
2) Any request for Dravot to marry.
3) Any request to recruit more men to The Army (per occasion).
4) Any alliance with other tribe not part of a marriage agreement

The "Will there be a revolt" aspect could be handled with a simple "Local Confidence" chart (popularity can go up or down) similar to my "Robinometer" process (mentioned in my post here 14th August 2018); so that victories or demonstrations of prowess and "Masonic" actions are "pluses", defeats, wounds, getting drunk (necessary to keep in with the chiefs and the men?), having liaisons with women (for example, as part of a necessary diplomacy process re. other tribes?) could be "minuses" (or could swing either way through dice-driven processes) - with a trigger point leading to a revolt if popularity drops below a certain level (example below).

Popularity modifiers could be things like:

Events Affecting the Popularity Chart (cumulative):
On each occasion they occur the following will affect the Popularity Chart. 

Dravot or Carnehan  make successful Saving Throw in battle +12 first occasion (each protagonist) +6 thereafter. 

Dravot and/or Carnehan falls ill; -1 per move incapacitated per protagonist.

Dravot or Carnehan sustain injury -12

Each enemy killed/wounded by Dravot or Carnehan at long range +2

Each enemy chief killed or wounded by Dravot or Carnehan at long range +8

Each Challenging Friendly Chief killed by Dravot or Carnehan in duel +6

Each Challenging Friendly Chief arrested and executed -4 despite Council advice.

Battle Won +6

Each Council decision lost. -1.

Engage in drinking bout with Elders and Warrior Chiefs; throw 1x6D for effect. Throw another to see in which direction (1-3 negative, 4-6 positive).

Carry out Masonic ceremony; throw 1x6D for effect. Throw another to see in which direction (1-3 negative, 4-6 positive).

Marry - each occasion. Polygamy permitted. Throw 3x6D for effect. Throw 1x6D to see in which direction  (1-5 negative, 6 positive).  Add 2 to the direction dice if a Diplomatic Marriage.

Override Council decision re. Alliance or Marriage; minus 8.

Davot marries against council advice; minus 12 

Map 2) My "scribbling notes" map. Numbers are population estimates, fort numbers and passes so far gleaned; mainly from British by Political Officers' reports of the 1890s found online.
Note the error on the above two maps. I managed to put the Minjan and Pomoru as two separate tribes, rather than clocking the two names for the same tribes..

Movement etc. 

I'd probably work on armies armies moving two zones per day (again, see mt "This Aint Siluria" for thoughts.

Detailed terrain for battles in the Zones can be easily obtained on Google maps.

So that's idea one.. Needs some kicking into shape and playtesting will reveal flaws and needed tweaks, 
but I feel a game based on the above/similar principles would give a good "feel" for "replaying" the film and book.


2) "This Ain't Kafiristan" or "make Your Own Kafiristan" aka "Into The Unknown": 

However, while t
he above is a possible project for me in the future (or to spark others' thoughts) I LIKE the "not knowing what's out there" aspect to the original story, feeling that THAT is more the essence of the tale that appeals to me and so I have also put my addled brain to concentrating on this approach (see below), rather than the "almost oven-ready" idea above....

Mapping the Kingdom to be...

I have sketched out the following three maps:

Basically Roberson's map, with watersheds and rivers highlighted.

Ditto. Watersheds and starting rivers only.

Ditto.Watersheds and Rivers

Using the either of the maps (based on Robertson) our protagonists might begin at Points A, B or C , with the choices of: 

1) From A push up the Alingar/Kao River Valley, the Alishang River Valley or over the hills to the territory of the Ashkun Tribe.

4) From B push up the Pech River or over the hills to the territory of the Wai Tribe.

5) From C push up the Bashgul River

4) Retrace steps back to the Kunar River or the Kabul River/Kabul-Jalalabad road trying further east/west.

The maps have no real details since the territory is relatively unknown. The idea is to  will fill in the map as we go along.

1) Movement and Exploration:

Now, the first thing to say is that we are talking a largish, but not huge playground - especially given that most of it is inhospitable hills and mountains. The whole of modern Nuristan is estimated at 9,225 km² - which I make as being about the size of Cyprus, or roughly half as big again as Delaware State or about 10% smaller than UK's Devon & Cornwall combined. Luckily the terrain is such that there will be little in the way of "Blitzing" though the countryside without sticking to the valleys.

Most travel will be along said valleys. It is assumed that these are mainly good-fair going and that every Main Valley has a stream/river running along it, roughly in the middle -though actual position of this stream/river will really only be relevant when one has to be crossed, or when transferring to the table for any fighting, but if not specifically chosen it is assumed that the party will be on the Northernmost or Westernmost side of any valley when terrain permits (to catch the early sun). 

Pencilling in the time scale and distance to be travelled each day I'm going to divide the "working day" in to three "Walking Sessions"; two morning sessions.
one afternoon session (note; British Political officers of the 1890s say that the locals can make 25 miles a day. Also, that cattle can push their way over most of the high ground... Looking at the terrain I'm not convinced this includes the watersheds, but....).

I've been experimenting with calculating the distance travelled with a "starting distance of two miles per session plus a dice throw for each session (e.g.  First Walking Session will be along a valley. Throw 1x6D. This happens to be a ""5". The distance it would be possible to travel that session would thus be 7 miles along the valley, if uninterrupted by settlements, bad going or streams. However, see below "Terrain".)

I am also looking at applying the following modifiers to the movement total.

Halve the movement allowance (rounded up) for Bad Going.

Reduce movement to a third 
(rounded down) for Very Bad Going.

Lose a thrown 1x6 movement allowance per stream/river crossing.

Lose a thrown 1x6D movement allowance per settlement encountered (one mustn't be rude).

Watersheds can only be crossed where there is a Pass or track or following a stream to the watershed apex. 

Vegetation only affects spotting, combat and ambushes.

3) Terrain

We know from the above how far we could move. We would then use a Terrain Generator to see what kind of country we are traversing and what random events might occur. 

Thoughts so far are are two tables using ordinary playing cards;

A) The Valley/Defile/Stream Table: This is for when your party is going along a main valley.

For every mile (rounded down) being traversed throw three, different coloured/differentiated 1x6D dice (or throw in sequence one dice three times). Also get out a pack of standard playing cards. Make a deck consisting of hearts & diamonds, and two others; one of Clubs, one of Spades. 

One Dice will be designated the Valley Terrain Dice. This deck dictates what the terrain ahead and along the valley being traversed that session will be. On a throw of 4-6 on this dice pick a new card from the Heart/Diamonds deck. On a throw of "1 to 3" there is no change in terrain.

One dice will be for the Spades deck. On a throw of 3-6 Pick a new card from the Spades deck. This deck dictates what the terrain along the left hand side of the valley being traversed will be. On a throw of "1 or 2" there is no change.

One dice will be for the Clubs deck. On a throw of 3-6 Pick a new card from the Spades deck. This deck dictates what the terrain along the right hand side of the valley being traversed will be. On a throw of "1 or 2" there is no change.

Where there is a Watershed marked on the map (optional), if your party progresses so that it gets within one mile and is heading directly for said feature  draw a card from each of the Black Suits to discover how the valley comes to an end. 

2) Along Hill/Mountain Track Table: This is for when your party is diverting from a Main Valley (above) into higher ground on a track/up a reentrant (draw) at a valley's sides. Similar principle as above, except all the cards are in one pack and the chart shows the terrain encountered on your route NOT at the sides (i.e. you are sticking to the track/stream to ascend/descend the watershed, NOT moving ALONG the high ground, since the high ground can only be traversed on tracks/along a stream bed. 

For accident tests: throw 1x6D for each party member/animal, minus 1 per existing injury. On a 2-3 they have an injury. Otherwise OK. 

Other thoughts: 

4) Feeding and Trade:

Decide on how many days food your folks have with them and how many units of "trade goods" they carry. Or dice for it... (Note; in the story the guys have 20 rifles with them and have only enough food to get them into the first valley)

Test at each settlement to see if locals will sell you food with a 1x6D. Result as follow. Minus one to the throw per each village of the same tribe already hostile.
Add 1 to the throw if per free gift of one unit trade goods offered in advance.  
Plus 3 per rifle passed as free gift. 

1: No they won't trade - and the settlement turns hostile

2-3; No. No sale.

4-5 :Yes, will trade - 1x6D's worth per one unit of trade goods.

6: Local hospitality. No sale, but get fed today and get one day's food to take away for nothing).  

5) Councils:

In the event a "Council" of local bigwigs need to make a decision (to join you,  or reject you or to go along with any plans you might have) see above.

6) Direction (optional):

To add a complication, if desired - especially if the decision is to ignore the river and watershed map and create a whole new country within the confines of the watersheds (or not at all) - the direction of the valley itself could be determined with a Direction Spider.

Use of this is simple enough. Throw a 1x6D as each Movement Token is drawn. On a throw of 4-6 the valley changes direction. Use the Direction Spider to find where it is heading.

Throw eight dice or total eight 1x6D throws. The result is the new direction of travel (note: direction may not actually change despite the test being required).

On approaching a Watershed the valley will turn so at to run parallel to said watershed and in the direction of travel. 


Once the terrain and encounters have been worked through, unless they have been massacred or died of injuries, the protagonists should have a base.

It can then be reasonably assumed that now they are ensconced they now have access to local knowledge - so switch the Game can switch to the Zone wargame idea above. 

For wargaming the story it would depend on how pedantic one was being regarding figures. The main characters are easy enough, but images of Kafiri fighters suggest they look more like "ancients" than typical N.W. Frontier types. My temptation (in 1/72 - my fave scale) would be to mess about with a mix of conversions of ancient Persians and 16th century Russians/Ottomans (for the matchlocks).

Terrain is reasonably simple - most combat will be in the valleys. Rivers/stream will be important. 

Buildings: trickier - unless one already has the type of "piled-up" hill-village properties distinctive to the area..

In the valley bottoms one can likely cheat a bit with suitable looking flat-roofed buildings.

I have been finding reference to small forts - in considerable numbers - in Political officers reports, but have not so far found a specific period image.  I suspect these are actually very small - more "fortified" compounds with a tower - or maybe just a tower (?). 


Well, these are my first thoughts for this project. Lots of tweaking and playtesting might be needed, but the principles work. This has certainly been a really interesting exercise - and I have been really taken with the amount of data out there on the Web. Even if there is a LOT of sifting and cross-referencing to be done... 

It has also given me a good excuse to get back to Kipling...

Anyway, I hope this sparks some thoughts and some ideas for others. As always thoughts and comments welcome.


Thursday 3 December 2020

"This Ain't Kafiristan" or "The Man Who Found too Much"....

How to Conquer - or indeed find - a Kingdom that Ain't there; An Adventure in Mappery..

Prompted by a query on the FB Solo Wargames with Figures Group I dragged out some old notes and started to write up "A Brief And Cursory Account of on how I approach games where one is dicing into the unknown".

This is the method, referred to in an earlier post, which I had used in years long past for Spanish Explorers in "This Ain't Mexico", "Romans in Them Thar Hills" and Norman and Norse freebooters in "This Ain't Ould Ireland" - i.e. folk campaigning in a land for which they had no maps, where the lie of the land was unknown, and where I wasn't too fussed about geographic accuracy - just wanting the feel of "exploring in the dark"... I found it worked for me.... 

Rather than having folks search for my (brief) earlier
 post I thought I'd run through the process again.   

Basically, in "encountering unknown lands", be they the blanks on the map for Victorian Explorers, the wild lands"Beyond The Wall", the territories "Up Country" or The Mysterious Planet GaGa XII one first has to decide what one "knows" and what one "don't Know" - i.e. is this a Brave New World previously undiscovered (except by the natives, obviously..  But, as The Man said, "Just living there doesn’t count") with there being no clue as to what might lie therein, or is it an area where traders, travellers' tales or some kind of basic survey have already supplied me with an inkling of what might be expected..?

In some of the the cases above the answer was simple: I limited my knowledge to the coastline of the land in question, its immediate hinterland and visible points of interest (e.g. . ranges of mountains visible from the coast) and some vague knowledge of points of interest further up country - but no exact locations for same and no clear idea of the terrain, political situation  or who/what one might meet (see also the board-game "Source of the Nile", by Avalon Hill). 

In these circumstances the "map" would be pretty much bare. THIS makes set up and preparation. easy. All I then needed was a "Terrain Generating Chart", a decision on scale and rate of progress, how the country would be explored (i.e. in one main body, scouts etc.), how much data might come from native guides/local knowledge - and how to decide how frequently terrain might change.

Where there might be some knowledge of what might lie ahead I might mark out known routes, known  locations etc.  - but have blank spaces between; again, these being "discovered" via the Terrain Table or some other method. 

This kind of "Into the Blank" way of doing things could be used for all sorts of scenarios/campaigns.  "Not the Anabasis", "This Aint's Caledonia" (or Germania) or "Nero Says: Find me the Nile", "The Hunting for Even Newer Spain", "Doctor Elphinstone, I presume", "King Solomon's Bungalow","Will Robinson Is Missing" etc. etc. all spring to mind - the list of possibilities is endless

However.... The actual query on FB was in regards playing a game based on "The Man Who Would Be King" - something I had thought about gaming in the past; the project being "On The List" and some ideas having already been sketched out. However, on returning to the subject.. Well, see below.....

Part One: Preparation, "The Known and the Unkown".

In my original concept of a "The Man Who Would Be King" game my thoughts (ages and ages ago) revolved around using the above method. I had penned out potential Terrain Types and was working on the basis of a Blank Map, as above....

However, having revisited the idea this week, and knowing (or rather having thought) more about the geography and, more critically, the period  than was the case (pre-Internet) a few decades ago, I initially felt a tad unsatisfied with the Total Blank idea. I decided a fresh approach was needed, so started with The Basics....

) Problem One - The Period - and what is "Known":

With the Kafiristan adventure my "Player Knowledge" - and the map - will depend on the period I decide to set the game in and how "true to life", in historical terms, I want to make it. Pre-existing knowledge of the country and the political situation will be affected by this. 

I went back to source....

Kipling's short story/novella itself (and if you've not read it then I seriously recommend doing so) was published in 1888, so the adventure clearly takes place before then (I'm not going by the real people the story was possibly based on, but the characters in the novella itself).

Kipling is, as usual, deliberately vague and I had originally assumed, when first thinking about this project waaaay back, that the action was originally intended to be set 1860s-1870s, and had been"updated" for the film (I hadn't read the book for some time). But on going back to the original source this week I had to ditch this idea. In fact the action is likely set towards the mid to late 1870s or even early 1880s - much later than I had in mind.... 

I say this because there is a specific reference in the tale of a future opportunity for the adventurers when Sniders are replaced in India by the Martini Henry rifle, and our lads will be able to get their hands on them cheap.

The text suggests this is imminent or even in progress. But this changeover didn't apparently take place until after all British units had been so equipped - which itself does not seem to be complete until about 1877. 

(Re. above see )

Replacement among Indian Army regiments took time - right into the early 1890s. But luckily (for us) we have an end date for our adventures; the Afghan invasion (1895) of Kafiristan* following the Durand Line agreement (1893) with the British.

(* And its subsequent renaming to Nuristan, following the conversion of the "Kafirs" to Islam)

There is also a reference in the story taken by some to indicate that the events took place after 1879 (referral to a work on Kafiristan by Bellew).  I suspect Bellew may have produced other relevant material before then to which "our heroes" might have had access but can't be sure about that so on balance I'm going to say 1879-87 for the kick-off. This seemed a bit late to me, but there we are. It didn't to Kipling or his readers, and they were closer to the ground than I, so..

My next thought was "the only "problem" with this late date is that I was finding, via the good offices of Mr. Google, that we already have some wonderful-looking, pretty detailed maps of the area by the late 1880s-early 90s - so, so much for my launching into the "totally unknown" idea....

Or so  I thought...

I started comparing the various maps I was finding online - in particular an 1894 sketch map by G. S Robertson (of Chitral Fort fame) of his travels in Kafiristan and the rather fine Royal Geographical Society's map of 1881.

I then sought out an early Edwardian one, some modern maps and Google Maps...

WTF..?!! Is this even the same place..? How come that range of hills/watershed comes, then goes, then comes back again..? Where'd that extra river come from..? How come there are two rivers, no one, no two, again, in that valley. And why are ALL all the place names changed..??

On closer inspection I could see where certain salient details matched up - but also where they don't; and I suddenly realised "This place hasn't actually been explored properly after all - let alone surveyed...". Despite the confident (and convincing-looking) Royal Geographical Society's map it was clearly not a chart of "what is", but a map of "what we think it is"...

(Robertson's "From native Information only" comment on his map perhaps explains the two rivers where there are only one on the RGS's map. And the range of hills that vanishes.. As to some of the other anomalies; heaven knows).

Then I stumbled across Col. Sir Thomas Holdich's "The Gates of India on Gutenberg.. Even in 1910 he is talking about the area as being unexplored. Good enough for me... 

I recalled my work in Nigeria in the 1970s - where a Surrey lad, used to the wonders that are the Ordnance Survey maps of UK, came face to face with the practicalities of having to use a map produced not by "feet on the ground" but by an overview (In this case aerial photography... Over forested country.. Talk about not seeing the wood for the trees...) of major visible features, supplemented by local knowledge. This introduction to the wonderful world of "What do you mean, you can't get from HERE to THERE..? There's a track on this map, see..?" "What do you mean, sorry, this isn't Ekefun ? The map says it is..." and the ever-popular "Where did this bloody river come from?".... The map looked LOOKED convincing, but didn't reflect reality on the ground. It was as bad as using a road map in 1980s rural Ireland... 

So where did this leave me?

Basically in a good position; someone at the time of our expedition could go in with a rough idea of the country, but with minimal fixed or known details and some seriously wrong details. This was good enough for me.  I went back to Robertson's sketch map. THIS would be my template.

I decided the ranges of hills/watersheds would be "fixed" as "knowns". I marked (roughly) the tribal boundaries. 

So, now I had my "Blank Map". Not totally blank, but within these boundaries I was happy to be fast and loose with the details of "This Ain't Kafiristan".

I was happy with this.. In the story "Our Heroes" have only the sketch map and notes they made in the newspaper office. Dravot and Carnehan had about two hours to make themselves familiar with the route and territory (I find I've "lost" about seven hours doing research for this so far - and THAT was on the Web; i.e. simple Googling, copying and pasting and downloading images - never mind digging out and poring over actual books to find references and making sketches and pencilled notes). The detailed layout of the region STILL has to be discovered after all. I can have my "undiscovered country"...

So to begin....

I marked up the different tribal areas in different colours.

I set my protagonists to start at Point A on the map below ("We turned off before Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they wasn’t good..."). This is on a river valley which provides the best rout (so far as I can tell) coming off from the Kabul River/Kabul-Jalalabad route east of Jagdallak into Kafiristan. It also gives four choices: 

1) Push up the Alingar/Kao Valley.
2) Push up the Alishang River.
3) Push over the hills to the territory of the Ashkun.
4) Retrace our steps back to the Kunar River and try further east.

This, I feel, is a good start. 

2) Problem two - The nature of the terrain.

I looked at the maps and spent some time on Google earth (what a wonderful tool for wargamers that is.... Extraordinarily useful - esp. the 3D element) and in looking at some videos on Nuristan (former Kafiristan) on the ol' Youtube ("Unseen Beauty of Afghanistan Nuristan Afghanistan" etc. etc.). 

This cemented the feeling (already planted in my head) that the terrain is really going to funnel the movement and the action, in that there is high ground where nobody is going to to go without a VERY good reason (the watersheds/ridges). and parts they will go (i.e. along the valley floors).  

It became clear that, like certain parts of Iran's Zagros Mountains, where I spent a lot of time on foot once upon a day, the valleys (and command of same) are key, and much of the high ground is only relevant to goats, timber-grabbing or certain military contexts. Also, there will be no roads as we understand them, just rocky tracks of various sizes. Most movement will thus be along the river valleys, rather than over the hills. 

We get a good picture of what we might expect from the account of Robertson (1894) in which he says;

"Kafiristan consists of an irregular series of main valleys, for the most part deep, narrow, and tortuous, into which a varying number of still more difficult, narrower, and deeper valleys, ravines, and glens pour their torrent water. The hills which separate the main drainage valleys the one from the other are all of them of considerable altitude, rugged and toilsome."

"Some of the ravines up which regular roads run are of most picturesque and romantic description, others are bare rocky glens. Indeed, many various kinds of scenery are to be met with according to differing altitudes and to other circumstances. At the lower elevations fruit trees abound, and in the hot weather the traveller pushes his way along the torrent's bank through thickets and tangles of wild grapes and pomegranates. At such low elevations splendid horse-chestnuts and other shade trees afford pleasant resting-places, while the hillslopes are covered by shrubs, wild olive, and evergreen oaks.

At somewhat higher elevations, say from 5000 to 8900 or 9000 feet, dense 
pine and cedar forests abound. They are composed of magnificent trees, which with a snow background afford most delightful prospect. Higher still, the pines cease; the hills are then almost bare, rocky, shaly, etc. ; while the willow, birch, and the juniper cedar are the chief trees met with, and the wild rhubarb grows abundantly. Higher still-that is to say, above 13,000 feet-there is no vegetation of any kind, except rough grasses and mosses."

Nowadays there has been a lot of deforestation, but you can still get a good feel for what the country would have been like in the nineteenth century. 

Robertson also notes; "The main roads of communication, if roads they may be called, are almost invariably along the river-banks, so narrow and so steep are the valleys. Although they vary very greatly the one from the other, they have this quality in common, that they are almost always extremely difficult. That part of the Bashgul valley above Chabu, as well as nearly the whole of the Presnngul, is quite easy when you once get into those districts; but all other Kafiristan roads which I travelled over were simply abominable.

Well there we are.... Also:

"The bridges over the rivers are sometimes extremely well built, but are high above the water, and often not more than 18 or 20 inches wide in the middle, with parapets only a few inches- high, so that the whole structure looks far more like an irrigation trough than a bridge. They are somewhat trying to the nerves, specially if you are suffering or are just recovering from an attack of 
fever. If this is a description of the good bridges, it may easily be conceived how extremely bad the inferior ones are."

However:  "The rope or rather twig bridge common in Gilgit, Chitral, and the Kunar valley is never met with in Kafiristan" (Oh dear.... So much for THAT element of the story... Still, a minor detail....).

So, from this I draw that roads can be ignored for our purposes (other than to lead us to other villages), river crossings by bodies of men will take a while (and be potentially hazardous) and that almost all movement will be along the valleys.

From Robertson and others it is clear that in winter the high ground and passes will be all but impassable.

Fine with me...

3) Problem Three - The Politics and Population:

The area is linguistically complex, divided into of tribal areas - like the book. Robertson gives the impression that inter-tribal rivalry is pretty intense - as in the story - but other accounts say there is little actual organised warfare between the various groups, and it is more a question of violent but low-level feuding; plus a bit fo random killing/headhunting to gain "Big Man" status. This isn't a problem for us. Our Heroes are setting out to be "Big Men"..

The inter-tribal boundaries appear in most places to be the ranges of high hills, which makes things neat. However, Robertson is a bit vague about the areas he hasn't been, and not all boundaries are clear. He does (usefully) sometimes give the number of villages controlled by the different tribes. All this gives us leeway to be creative.

Kipling gives figures for the population which seem way, way out. The population of the whole region in modern times has been estimated as between 100,00-140,00, but Afghanistan - despite the troubles - has seen a fourfold increase in population since the 50s. so I am happy to divide the higher recent figure by four.

Villages vary between 30 to 300 families nowadays. MacNaire gives one of the large villages, Kamdesh having 600 houses. Say one or two fighting men per household gives us plenty for our purposes.

The people themselves: In 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica says of the locals: 

"A warrior's weapons are a matchlock (rarely a flintlock), a bow and arrows, a spear and the dagger which he never puts aside day or night. The axes, often carried, are light and weak, and chiefly indicate rank. Clubs, carefully ornamented by carving, are of little use in a quarrel; their purpose is that of a walking-stick. As they are somewhat long, these walking-clubs have been often supposed to be leaping-poles. Swords are rarely seen, and shields, carried purely for ostentation, seldom."

This seems fair enough, and matches with Kipling.

So where does this get us?

We have a time period.

We have a map - and a feel for what should be known an unknown.

We have some idea of the terrain and the folk we are likely to meet.

All we need now is a game. Detailed thoughts for this will be set out in Part Two, but to set the scene:

I would start a project like this as follows:

1) Sketch out a map based on Roberston's map - or print out his map.

2) Mark up the tribal areas OR make that random and unknown (i.e build that into the Events part of the Terrain G
enerator. See next post for this).

3) Decide on the time scale and distance to be travelled each day (ideas on this in the next post). 

4) Decide on how many days food your folks have with them and how many "trade goods" they carry (ditto). 

5) Use a Terrain Generator to see what kind of country you are traversing and what random events - inc; weather and hostiles - might occur (ditto).

6) In the event a "Council" of local bigwigs need to make a decision (to join you,  or reject you or to go along with any plans you might have) see my "Council... What Council" post of 30th May 2018.

So there we are. Watch this space for more.

There is a lot of stuff in the above I'm afraid. The second post will be more "How I would Do it" ideas and examples of game processes.

Meanwhile for them as is interested; some links to copy and paste into a search engine if desired. There is a LOT of incredible research material out there on the Web for wargamers generally (including The journals of the Royal United Services Institution !!) and folk fascinated by history - but watch out for getting pulled too far down the rabbit hole of research... Onwards and upwards.. :)

"Kafiristan" Surg. Maj. C.S. ROBERTSON (slow, but takes you to a PDF)

"Kafirs of The Hundu Kush" (illustrated) Surg. Maj. C.S. ROBERTSON (downloadable PDF)

"Kafristan and the Kafirs" Surg. Gen. H.W. Bellew 1879

"A Visit To Kafiristan" William Watts McNair (1883)

"Secret and Political Records 1885-1900" (notes from Political Officers),%20Schuyler.pdf

 gates of India, being an historical narrative" Colonel Sir Thomas Holdich 1910.


New Year. New House. New Plans..

New hope...? Well, we're in the new house at last.... I now have: A garage to convert into a workshop for, amongst other things, modelli...