The Demise of Professor Prufrock

For some of us, Gencon is a four-day party. And like any party at someone else's house, we're always sad when it ends. In an effort to make it last a bit longer, we had some friends stay over at the house to play games for a few days after the show.

The Monday after Gencon, we set up this game, "we" being me; my good friend, gaming buddy, and ex-coworker Thomas Reid; my 12-year-old son Alex; Alex's friend Ryan; and newcomer (to our games, not to gaming) Randy Weiss, another local colonialist whom I recently "discovered" online.

The Situation: Noted archaeologist and infamous American crackpot Professor J. A. Prufrock has been excavating something deep inside the disputed territory of Soudanistan. He is, as always, accompanied by his lovely daughter Nicolle and a handful of associates and students. For security, a small detachment of native askaris is "on loan" from the local Malik.

Also as usual, Prufrock has been characteristically loose-lipped about his activities. His latest communique mentioned his find's "world shattering potential to supernaturally upset and reorganize contemporary power structures."

No one, least of all his usual contact within the Foreign Office, has any notion of what the good professor meant by that. Still, the telegram's simultaneous leak to the world press caused a good deal of consternation in the halls of the "contemporary power structures." The Kaiser, in particular, expressed grave concerns to certain members of his staff. They, in good Prussian fashion, interpreted the Kaiser's passing comments as a call for action free of accountability. And so, orders were passed down the line and across the sea to the German outpost at Tanza-nia-nia to seize the professor's digs and the professor himself, if possible, for further investigation and development of this mysterious and somewhat baffling discovery.

Yesterday evening, all of the professor's diggers were noted furiously punting back down the Spotted Nile in the expedition's supply barge. Unsure of what was at stake but certain that something was afoot, Major Blunder ("Old Blood-and-Thunder"), commander of the American mission, this morning dispatched a section of marines and a handful of native Betcha allies to check up on the good professor.

And not a moment too soon, as the local Soudanistas, egged on by the renegade German adventurer Hans von Schwansmannstannzieger and bolstered by a section of German colonial troops, was at that very moment preparing to swoop down on the professor's dig and encampment.

The Game: We used The Sword in Africa, minus random events. The attackers consisted of one unit of German regulars, one unit of Soudanista riflemen, two units of Soudanista spearmen, Hauptmann Beirguzlingenstaupfler, and Hans von Schwansmannstannzieger. The defenders consisted of the professor, his lovely daughter Nicolle, their guide, their steam launch pilot, the professor's missionary cousin, a fellow archaeologist, and one of the professor's students, all armed with pistols; a unit of native regulars armed with rifles; a unit of U.S. Marines, and a unit of allied native spearmen. The last two were en-route up the river and would arrive as reinforcements.

After the diggers fled the day before, the camp was on the alert for danger. The defenders threw up a hasty barricade of crates and barrels in front of the dig itself where the pilot, fellow archaeologist, missionary, and three riflemen were positioned. The professor himself was at the dig site, madly transcribing worn hieroglyphs from the obelisk into his notebook as quickly as his failing eyesight would allow.


Four more riflemen were strung along the rocky ground to the dig's left. The student, the guide, the professor's lovely daughter Nicolle, and the remaining four riflemen were held in reserve back at the camp.

The Germans and the Soudanista riflemen worked their way carefully through the massive rocks directly ahead of the barricade. But the native riflemen, incensed at the sight of foreign infidels desecrating their sacred heritage, threw caution (and Hauptmann Beirguzlingenstaupfler's careful plan) to the desert wind and charged across the open ground. Although the Germans picked off the steam launch pilot, it was hardly enough to save their allies, and the hauptmann swore a lusty Hessian oath as he watched the hot-blooded riflemen get shot down one after another by blazing pistols at the barricade.

Still, a bad beginning is not the same as a bad showing, and the Soudanista spearmen already were working their way forward through the brush to Beirguzlingenstaupfler's right.

Thomas, in charge of the native regulars, wondered aloud whether it wasn't time for his men to pull back from the rocks. "No," I advised him, "if it was me I wouldn't be thinking about pulling back yet. Those spearmen are still too far away to be a threat." Then my son rolled a 16-inch move for the spearmen, and in one fell swoop the askaris were surrounded, cut off, and wiped out.

In spite of the poor judgment he showed in listening to my advice, Thomas at least had the good sense to start bringing his remaining four askaris forward from the camp and toward the rocky area. Would they be able to salvage the situation and turn the marauding tribesmen back from the camp?

 No, because my son rolled another 16 for movement and these askaris, too, were engulfed in a roiling mob of spearing, kicking, stabbing, biting Soudanista fanatics. Behind the attackers this whole time was Herr Schwansmannstannzieger, egging them on and taking potshots at the Americanners with his elephant rifle.

In the meantime, those Soudanistas that couldn't reach the approaching riflemen turned and charged up the hill to attack the barricade. They engulfed the end of the line, pinning the missionary and one of the askaris. The remainder of the defenders turned and fled, scooping up the professor as they ran and leaving the two unfortunates to their fates.

As if things weren't already going badly enough, the German regulars began advancing from the rocks toward the obelisk and picking off the retreating academics one by one. It was just at this point that the marines hove into view, towing a barge filled with native allies. They dropped the gangplank and swarmed ashore.

Now it was a race for the professor's life. His lovely daughter Nicolle reached the foot of the gangplank but refused to board the vessel until she knew her dear father was safe. With his entire escort shot dead around him, the professor was running as fast as his gamy leg would carry him. He was nearly at the riverbank when the Soudanistas, howling for more blood, caught and surrounded him. But the Betcha, tribal enemies of the Soudanistas, counter-surrounded the fanatics!

In a blood-bath of epic proportions, the Soudanistas, the Betchas, and Professor Prufrock grappled and hacked and shot their way to glory. The Betchas quickly opened up a corridor to the professor in case he needed to retreat. But the gutsy old man never wavered, coolly blasting two spearmen right off the very muzzle of his long-barreled Colt .45. In the end, the professor stood alive and triumphant in the midst of the carnage, surrounded only by the slain Soudanistas and the whooping, dancing Betchas whirling in ecstasy.

They should have waited. In a move that shall forever be enshrined in the Hall of Dastardly Fame, von Schwansmannstannzieger climbed into the expedition's truck, fired it up, and roared across the sand. Betchas leaped out of the way, but the professor, still somewhat befuddled from his recent near-death experience, froze in place and was cruelly struck down. Hoping against hope that he might have survived, we flipped a casualty card: Ace of Hearts! Time froze . . . the Betchas froze . . . von Schwansmannstannzieger froze . . . Only the professor's lovely daughter Nicolle, with perfect clarity of mind and eye, took two steps forward from the gangplank, leveled her derringer, and fired both barrels. Without a sound, the infamous manhunter and assassin, "the Butcher of Baden," crumpled over the steering wheel, dead.

With his allies chased off the field, von Schwansmannstannzieger dead, and the Americans coming on strong, Hauptmann Beirguzlingenstaupfler decided that now was the time to withdraw. Gathering up his wounded and dead in order to leave no tangible trace of German involvement, he and his troop slipped back into the rocks and away. Even if the obelisk remained in American hands, at least the professor was dead and the ancient artifact's secret, whatever it may have been, died with him.

Or did it?

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