Friday, 26 August 2011

It's not easy, being green

Today was another morning of family duty, which I parlayed into an opportunity to clean up and prime the Fenians and the Russians.

I'm not honestly sure where the idea for a Fenian army came from. I'd just started playing colonial wargames following the inspiration of the Major General, and had setup my fictional arab state of Olistan as a playground for the Great Powers to clash in. While looking at various ranges of figures, it was obvious that American Civil War figures were most widely available, and I had a vision of ACW-equipped infantry in green instead of the usual blue or grey, making a rather splendid hypothetical 19th century Irish army. However apart from the fictional setting, I wanted my Olistan colonial gaming to be strictly historical in scope, with real-life Western powers and natives with clear real-world analogues (I had smooshed the Sudan and the North West Frontier together quite successfully - I never quite went as far as having Boers and Zulus on the same map, but I did have Egyptian-like native troops battling Pathan-like hill tribesmen with Russian advisors. It was quasi-historical at least.

It wasn't until years later that I saw the picture of the Battle of Ridgeway and found out that, yes indeed there was a nineteenth century Fenian army and yes indeed, they did look an awful lot like ACW troops.

In actual fact, the real-life Fenian raids were more like a few hundred lads out for a spot o' riotin' over the border than a serious military force. But there are enough seeds in the story that we can weave an alternate history where the raids, and the uprising in Ireland were significantly more successful than in real life and that the Fenians have maintained enough military clout, possibly with US sponsorship, to become a real threat to the British. I'm visualising a modest but significant Fenian Free State in Ireland, possibly the reverse of the real-world Eire/NI split, with three quarters of the island still in British hands.

This whole setup has not been without a little soul-searching, however

Although as wargamers we can usually gloss over the sheer horribleness of the events we're representing in the games we play, every so often they hit a little too close to home. I know US Vietnam veterans who can't bring themselves to wargame the conflict. I know someone currently serving in HM Armed Forces who feels a little awkward about playing counter-insurgency games with Force on Force, having been doing it for real in the not too recent past.

In my case, it's hard to overlook what evolved out of the Fenians' original struggle. Although I've lived all my life in England, I'm about 3/4 Irish by blood and grew up in a house filled with statues of St Patrick and Daniel O'Donnel CDs. My childhood was dominated by the "Troubles" at their worst. IRA bombs were a real and constant threat for us, and indeed 1996 saw Manchester hit by a massive bomb attack. (Just as my Dad had seen his home town of Enniskillen devastated in 1987) No-one in my family was "active" in the struggle, and my Dad has always been apolitical although I did learn years later that my Grandfather (who I never met) was a pamphleteering Fenian, though from what I know of him I can't imagine him doing more than giving someone a nasty paper cut.

I've gone from the child frightened of the IRA bogeyman to the adult who's learned the history of the Troubles and with understandable national pride, favours a free and violence-free Ireland. But even though peace has mostly broken out, the old hatreds still remain, their origins now meaningless beyond... "We hate them over the other side of the barricade. We always have, we always will." As always happens, power-hungry men exploit the conflict for their own ends. It's going to take generations to unlearn the prejudices of the past.

So it's not without some trepidation that I set out to create a Fenian VSF Army for GASLIGHT. Though I can happily refer to them as Taigs and talk about the Fenian Brotherhood, in the back of my mind I'm aware that some might be offended and feel I'm trivialising an important cause, while others might consider it provocation to bloody murder. Lest anyone think I'm glamourising the organisation that terrorised my childhood, I'm dropping any references to the Irish Republican Army (the Battle of Ridgeway being the first time that name was used) and even the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and referring to the force purely as Fenians. I am however pushing the boundaries of good taste a little bit by including a number of bomb-throwing anarchists in the force - the Fenians did carry out an early "dynamiting" campaign against targets in mainland Britain in the 1880s, but I have to confess it does sit a little uneasy with me even now.

But at the end of the day, we're talking about frickin' toy soldiers here. It's an excuse to have another faction with slightly different uniforms and equipment to throw into the GASLIGHT mix.

Plus I get to have a cool standard bearer.

I do hope that no-one takes offence at me having a few little toy soldiers painted in a green Imagi-Nation uniform. I hope no-one takes offence at me playing up the "drunken, fightin' Irishmen" angle. I hope no-one takes offence if, when time comes to paint the figures' hair, there are more redheads than are statistically appropriate.

To anyone who does take offence at these things I say - They're frickin' toy soldiers, man. Get a grip.

While I was priming these and the Russians, the postman arrived with a long awaited order from Old Glory. It held the two packs of Victorian London civilians from Blue Moon manufacturing, part of their "Things that go bump in the night" range. They are absolutely beautiful figures, possibly the best sculpted Victorian civilians I've seen, full of animation and personality. They seem to fit well sizewise with my other Foundry and West Wind civilians, but they're cast with integral bases slightly larger than a UK penny that are sculpted to resemble cobbled streets. While they look fantastic, I'm a little concerned that the decorated bases will clash a little with the sand & flock I'm using for the rest of the figure collection. It seems a shame to cover the sculpted base up, but I may wind up doing so in the name of consistency.

I've also received my first shipment of tridlins from Ramshackle games, enough to start work on the converted Brass Coffin. The Scrap Tank turret does fit very nicely onto the GW Leman Russ tank, giving it a more steampunky profile, but I'm afraid the HST boiler has turned out to be way too big to use on anything short of a Leviathan (or possibly a large Aeronef)

Finally Scotia Grendel have sent me the last two of their Dwarven Steam tanks - one which looks like it fires some sort of harpoon gun, the other with a concealed multiple rocket launcher system. They're both going to require a little bit of work, but both should find their place in the Evil Genius army before too long.


  1. I understand and empathize with your soul-searching. From a different angle, I think about the natives and other non-Europeans I paint for my Afrodesian (and Ollistan - great minds think alike?) games. But how else would you approach these sorts of games where you're operating outside of Europe? As you say, it's not intended to offend and it's meant to be fun. But if it still offends people who have some right to take it personally, then what? I try to avoid stereotypes and also try to balance things so the natives and non-Europeans aren't all "baddies" and/or inferior. But it still troubles me a bit. I guess that's one of the appeals of fantasy.

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  3. Oh those typo's second go

    I think you have a fair and balanced approach to your Irish forces and should game without worry Sir.I'm using 'Fenians' in my Space 1889 and see them as a vital part of the story.

  4. @Fitz-Badger - It's such an obvious name for a colonial imagi-nation isn't it? It tickled me no end to see you were using the name (with two ells) Maybe we should get together and see if we can have an Olistan/Ollistan war?

    But I used to have the same concerns back when I ran the "Pore Benighted 'Eathens" page, since even the name could cause offence for those who failed to notice that it came from a poem that sings the praises of a native opponent. I'd pretty much gotten comfortable with colonial gaming when 911 came along, after which gaming out western vs moslem conflicts didn't seem to have the same sense of fun anymore, which was when I switched to VSF gaming in a purely European theater (which in turn is why I've gone for home service rather than sun helmet Brits)

    Time has healed though, and Olistan (with one ell) will be making a return, both in the original 19th century setting and updated as part of the Axis of Naughtiness modern imagi-nations. (which is very topical after the post I've just written)

    @DLI - sad to say, "fair and balanced" are three words that don't seem to carry much weight with those whose hearts are poisoned by the hatreds of the Troubles.

    (I was using the Fenians in my S1889 game as well. I had great fun playing a Fenian agent provocateur who I visualised as Richard Harris in his prime, with the Irish charm dialled up to 11. He charmed the skyship's female engineer into right under the nose of the hyper-British ship's captain.)