Gaming Sharpe: Sharpe’s Havoc


One of the later published Sharpe novels, Havoc lies between Sharpe’s Rifles and Sharpe’s Eagle. In the book, Sharpe and his riflemen continue their retreat from northern Spain and into Portugal,, becoming involved in the game of military chess that was Craddock’s retreat and Wellesley’s advance in Portugal. During that time they are tasked with interacting with the dastardly Lt. Colonel Christopher, rescuing the headstrong-yet-romantic Kate Savage and generally messing with the French. The book is a bit of a travelogue – involving a lot of looking for bridges and boats, walking through the rain and involves a number of decent, varied battles.

Having read Sharpe’s Eagle just before this, you can tell that Cornwell has expanded his writing but maybe not got an eye to continuity. General Hill, for example, has loads of interactions with Sharpe in Havoc but only just remembers him by reputation in Eagle. Similarly, the characters of Sharpe and Harper are far further into their bromance than they are in Eagle and Hagman is a more developed character (at last!)

What’s in the Game?

Who are the Characters?: Sharpe takes pride of place, as per usual, and Harper has precious little in the way of story. Daniel Hagman has his day in the sun, doing an impossible shot and exercising his peculiar medical skills to help heal his own injury. The real star of the piece, however, is Lt. Jorge Vincente, a Portuguese officer who was once a lawyer, wanted to be a priest and leads a company of educated men. His counter-point of honesty, honour and legal thinking was refreshing. Accompanying him is the sturdy Sgt. Macedo and there is a partisan called Lopes, the Schoolteacher, who gets barely any time. Sadly, I can’t see Kate Savage as a player character as she strikes me as a Macguffin in this story – something to be owned rather than someone with their own agency.

What are the Missions?:  It all starts so simply – ‘Rescue Kate Savage’ – and indeed, that stays through the entire story. However, there are a number of points where this is derailed due to the machinations of Christopher and there are some excellent set-pieces involving the battles on the hill fort and the seminary at Oporto. Sharpe gets a nice personal mission of ‘Get my telescope back’ and Jorge, of course, is in romantic pursuit of Kate Savage.

Whether the Weather Matters?: The weather plays a huge part in this book – just like the cold in Rifles. Here it is the rain that hampers everything and changes the way that engagements are handled. Torrential rain makes forced marches difficult, saps morale and most importantly makes firing a musket almost impossible, as the powder becomes damp in the pan. Normally I would roll my eyes at weather-related complications, but here it makes a lot of sense. Even fighting in torrential rain, on a slope, in the dark, becomes a really difficult proposition! Use the weather and the conditions to confound the players and reduce or change their options.

Allied Villains Use Rank Again!: Christoper is one of the most annoying villains I can remember in the novels, but I think it would be hard to pull him off as such at the table. He is so blindingly obviously a traitor that the players will see it coming a mile off. The best way to handle this would be through obfuscation – you have to make sure that a number of allied characters are self-aggrandising, pompous, rank-pulling annoyances as well, so you simply cannot tell which one is the turncoat traitor and which is the upper class knob. Christopher uses his ability to give real orders to Sharpe an awful lot – this is a great mechanic in the game to reinforce that the players are in a military chain of command and they cannot just kill off a ranking officer on suspicion of foul play. Make them toe to line and the pay off will be so much better!

A Good Catchphrase: One of the most annoying aspects of Lt. Colonel Christoper (and there are many…) is his constant quoting of Hamlet – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – it’s a small thing but the condescending nature of it’s delivery as an intellectual brush-off of any argument is bound to have players biting the table in rage. Little nuances like this are character gold for a good villain.

Barbaric, rather than Honourable French: There is a tendency in some of the Sharpe books to make the French out to be quite honourable – not in Sharpe’s Havoc! They are brutal in the extreme, raping and pillaging, torturing and burning people alive. Any entire village is massacred in their wake and the event is described in a brutal fashion. Contrast this to the French officer at the bridge in Eagle and the difference is stark. When the French are in this light – full on bad guy – it does make any mercy null and void.

Representing the Locals: The Portuguese get a good run out in this novel, but they are treated reprehensibly and virtually every one gets killed. A fair few are given some character traits; the attractive Maria, the pious Father Josefa, the handy barber-cum-partisan Luis etc. Later in the book we see the use of vicious and motivated Portuguese peasants as they massacre the French wounded, and the mis-use of the same as the professional soldiers massacre the Portuguese Ordenanças – their militia. In a Peninsular campaign, I think it’s very important to not represent the Portuguese or the Spanish as hapless victims of French invasion; they were brave and resourceful and should be represented as such.

Set Piece Siege Battles: There are two excellent siege battles in this book, and they act as a fine example of the use of artillery and the ways to avoid it. The cameo by the French artillery officer, Pelletieu, is delightful as the dedicated and educated howitzer lieutenant. There are two ways you can handle these sieges – either as a skirmish challenge or as a military mission in their own right – a game within a game. They are such a part of the Sharpe flavour that they really do deserve time to breathe. The real meat of the characterisation lies between the sorties by the enemy, so I would be tempted to run them as a short mission.

Rifles vs Muskets: For the first time, the books hammer home the absolute superiority of the rifle over the musket at range. Massacres are executed in the story due to the range and accuracy of the rifle and this does beg the question – why wouldn’t all soldiers carry rifles? Well, the answer is in the text – its about loading time. Rifles simply take that much longer to load, they cannot, at the time, be used for the massed rank volleys that typify the British infantry. Consider this when every character wants a rifle – if you are not a rifle regiment, it would have to be a very special piece of equipment.

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