Gaming Sharpe: Sharpe’s Eagles
Sharpe finds himself attached to the South Essex and their idiot Colonel Simmerson, flanked by his cronies Berry and Gibbons. Simmerson is desperate to prove himself and orders a suicidal mission which loses the regiment’s colours. Sharpe promises the fallen Major Lennox that he will balance the dishonour by capturing a French eagle. Along the way we have the classic ‘four shots a minute’ training scene, the mysterious Josefina, the raucous Hogan, a near rebellion amongst the South Essex after a firing squad, issues with Spanish allies, our first real sight of Wellington, and the battle of Talavera.
I think its important to note that Sharpe’s Eagle is one of my favourite Sharpe books but is also a pretty terrible book to draw game inspiration from – for reasons I will expand upon below.
What’s in the Game?
Who are the Characters?: Herein lies the problem – this book is very much about Sharpe. Whilst it introduces an army of secondary characters – Lawford, Hogan, Denny, Forrest – and Harper is, of course, ever-present, none of them really do anything of note as individuals. Only a couple of the riflemen are further developed, and then die. Unlike in Sharpe’s Rifles, the sole female character (Josefina) is an enigmatic trophy to be won, bedded, attacked and revenged.
What are the Missions?: Quite complicated this one – the initial mission is clearly ‘Blow up the bridge at Valdelacasa’ which is then morphed into ‘Capture the French Eagle.’ However there are a myriad of personal missions that enter into the fray. Sharpe is clearly battling some sort of personal mission against Simmerson, is undertaking a promotion mission, and then a personal mission to gain revenge of Berry and Gibbons for their rape of Josefina. In game terms this was a great example of layering personal and military missions.
The Joy of Colonel Simmerson : Simmerson is, absolutely, the best villain in the Sharpe books. His introduction in this book shows exactly how a ranking officer as an adversary should be handled. The regulations of the army and influence used to create mayhem for the characters. Add in a cabal of sycophants and a few no-win scenarios and you can very easily create a bad guy that the players will despise forever. The key to Simmerson’s vile personality is his combination of cowardice, arrogance and empowered stupidity, with a side salad of a real talent for survival. The aforementioned no-win situations add to the pain; ordering characters to do things they really do not want to do, knowing that they will have to overtly disobey orders and face the consequences can, when used sparsely but brutally, ratchet up the pressure on the characters. Don’t overdo it though – the game has to be fun!
Major Hogan, Master of Exposition : Ah, Major Hogan, what would we do without you? Hogan – an exploring officer (read: spy) and engineer – is Sharpe’s actual commanding officer and a great character. He also takes a crucial role as the giver of exposition. Need the tactical importance of a position explained? Hogan appears! Need an off-page incident explained to avoid an unnecessary investigation? Hogan appears! Need to nudge characters towards the next bit of the adventure? Deploy your own Hogan! Having a NPC that the characters trust who can easily point them towards things, or explain the implications of something – especially for players who have little understanding of the technicalities of military stuff – can be very useful.
The Great Battle Scene at the Bridge: The battle at the bridge at Valdelacasa is a classic example that I use in explaining some of the nuances of the Mission system, combined with the Skirmish Challenge rules. The Mission itself seems quite easy, but it all goes horribly wrong. The challenges are forced upon the riflemen by the inept decisions of their commanding officer; the rescue of the South Essex and the Spanish, treating with the French officer, capturing the cannon and then fighting for, and losing, the regimental colours. A number of these challenges within the mission also illustrate one of the nuances of the skirmish challenge rules; whilst the successes of the group add to the commander’s hand of cards, the commander can still lose the challenge if they fail their Command test. And boy, does Simmerson fail some Command tests!
A Smattering of History: One of the ways that you can make a game more ‘realistic’ is to add in a smattering of real life historical figures. In this book we see active appearances by Sir Arthur Wellesley and General Rowland ‘Daddy’ Hill, as well as a post-script appearance by Black Bob Crauford. Don’t go overboard with these, and don’t turn your game into a history lesson but a light smattering can give a rich underpinning to your fiction. Similarly, the off-screen threat of the French Marshals and an appearance by Joseph Bonaparte give the action a real place in history.
Why Josefina, Why?: No character annoys me more in this book than Josefina. She appears here and there, she has a spot of bother, and that’s all it takes for Sharpe to bed her, fall in love with her and then be fobbed off by her. I was never clear why she was there, but it all seemed just a little too gratuitous. NPCs need a little more agency than this – she is just a plot device here and not a particularly good one!
Foreshadowing Ahoy!: One thing I particularly liked in this book was a little bit of foreshadowing that was included. When Gibbons gets his comeuppance Sharpe finds a locket with a picture of a woman, one Jane Gibbons … the very distant future Mrs Sharpe. I like things like this – its good storytelling, in my opinion.