Sharp Practice – Masai

Masai move off from their Deployment Point through the scrub…a fearsome sight moving as quickly as they do…


So how are we going to make a list for the Masai for Sharp Practice?

Below you can see the Masia Tribal Force list I’ve come up with. It is fairly generic and typical of warrior peoples with a flat command structure i.e. a number of units with attached leaders to ‘steer’ them around with one overall leader being in charge of the main body, in this case, a Status Three leader. Like most warrior peoples the overall leader should be a quite high status level as he commands both respect and generally rises through the ranks through real life battle performance and abilities.

In addition you can see essentially that there is at least one status level per group i.e. There are five status levels and five 12 man warrior groups. This is to ensure that there will be sufficient command capability to push each warrior group around as individual units when engaging in normal movement though as the battle progresses the apportioning of command initiative by any leader will be at the players discretion. As Clan warriors don’t organise themselves in formation this is important.


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Masai Warriors

Before looking at the Unit Roster there are a couple of  overall ‘national characteristics’ that apply to the Masai. The first is the ability to invoke Terror in their enemies. This trait will potentially cause an enemy’s Force Morale to drop by the shear prospect of having to face a Masai host. The rule used to do this as follows;

TERROR: Masai Warriors spread dread and fear in their enemies. To represent this psychological effect, the first time enemy see a Masai Warrior unit they must test on the Bad Things Happen table using the Fisticuffs row, with the opposing player able to expend any Flags he has for a -1drm for each one used.”

The effect of this rule will be to cause your enemy to suffer a possible loss of 1 or perhaps 2 force morale points when seeing the much feared Masai, however a player that has some command flags in hand can use these to steady his troops.

The second ‘national characteristic’ relates to what is in essence the ‘Tomahawk’ rule from Sharp Practice. The rule is described as follows;

RUSH ATTACK: An attack style adopted by some Northern Masai tribes involved throwing clubs and spears then charging ferociously in an attempt to sweep the enemy away. Failure to achieve the outcome would usually result in a precipitious withdrawal to reform and prepare the attack again. Therefore a player may choose to have all his Masai Warriors adopt this tactic for this game.

When two Command Cards are used with a Leader’s activation, a Group of Masai Warriors may remove two points of Shock from each Group present if they move towards the enemy intent on engaging in Fisticuffs. In addition they invoke the Tomahawks rule (p.86). If the Unit does not win in Fisticuffs then it counts any result as one level worse (eg a Draw becomes Defeated by 1, and so on). 

This rule nicely defines how the charge and attack style of assault would hope to play out as we understand some Masai tribal tactics were used. An extra tweak of this rule forces the Masai to accepts a slightly worse result in combat should they lose they lose fisticuffs which captures the ‘all or nothing’ approach of this attack style.

These two ‘national characteristics’ are then added to any specific unit roster traits for each of the Masai troop types. These are very straightforward. Masai forces really comprise only Warriors and supporting archers….a blunt, if effective, instrument indeed!


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Above we can see the Unit Roster for Masai Warriors. In comparison to near all other types it is relatively sparse when it comes to the use of Command Cards. Many of the bonuses for the use of command cards pertaining to formation and firing rules neither of which apply to mass I warriors. This is not surprising as the Masai shunned any use of firearms and Sharp Practice has a definite focus on the firepower aspect of the period that the rules command flag rules cover. We shall look at each aspect of their roster in turn.

Players may note that the base classification for Masai is Tribe. This would apply to lesser or subject people tribes and not the Masai El Moran warriors themselves, which this list is principally aimed at and would be most familiar to people when one speaks of Masai warriors of this period. A classic Masai army is made up of Masai (Clan) Warriors in Sharp Practice. This reflects many African tribal armies of this period like the Zulus, Matabele, HeHe or Ngoni warrior peoples.

If we look at the Unit Roster we can see there are two defining elements of the Masai – movement and melee. These are relatively easily catered for using the existing rules in the game. There are two components to reflecting movement – the physical depiction of their speed relative to other troops and the ability to ‘go that bit quicker’ using the mechanic of playing Command Flags. The first is very simple; all Masai are given the same move ability as Skirmish Troops ie gaining an additional movement dice. We call this trait ‘Swift’ see in the Traits column.

This provides them with their natural move potential/ability in the game regardless of Command Flag use. However, for each (1) Command Flag used they may gain the bonus movement. This provides them a historically capable potent move potential in the game (the same as the 95th a Rifles are also depicted, though I’ll back a Masai warrior over 100m foot-race any day!). This ability to move quickly with the play of Command Flags is their only extra ability these flags confer to the Masai as they do not have any firearms during this period…in this regard they are relatively easy to handle in play.





Lastly, the other rule that applies to the Masai that is related to shooting, as it does to many African peoples, is a learned ability to duck before enemy fire. Whilst this seems silly to modern perceptions of firepower, warriors could often see and here enemy about to deliver a folly and therefore ready themselves. The tactic was to go to ground immediately and wait the fire to take place…usually the order being given and the troops being committed to fire before the they could see the Masai respond with this tactic. This was a particularly useful tactic against Arab Slavers who once they fired their muskets became all to vulnerable to a Masai attack. We call this rule Duck & Run;

Duck & Run: When a Masai Group is fired on by enemy infantry in Formation using Controlled Volleys or any artillery fire to their front, the Masai player may play one Command Card from his hand to allow the targeted Group to ‘Go to Ground’ immediately, counting as one level of cover better than they are in. The card must be played as the number of firing dice are calculated, but before they are rolled for results. The Duck & Run characteristic cannot be used if within 12” range of the firing enemy unit. When next activated they must give up 1D6 worth of movment to stand up and move off.


Fisticuffs traits

Traits for fisticuffs are fairly straightforward. We use the existing rules for Aggressive and Stubborn unchanged from the game and these neatly give us the appropriate levels of fighting effectiveness and resilience in close combat, this being a hallmark of Masai warriors of the time. We include a new trait for our Masai which relates to Fisticuffs which we touched on above – shield…as described above.

If we take a look at the melee (or Fisticuffs) aspect of the Masai we have two rules that we will apply;

Shield: Warriors equipped with a shield may ignore one kill result in any round of Fisticuffs or from any non firearm weapon (eg spear, bow, dart, etc). However, this kill may still inflict a point of Shock if a 6 is rolled.

Tribal ChargeWhen two Command Flags are used with a Leader’s activation, a Group of Masai Warriors can move towards the enemy whilst also removing two points of Shock from each Group present (this rules is ignored if player is using the Rush Attack rule above).

Masai warriors have large shields. Whilst not of any use against a bullet they certainly still have a use against non firearm weapons and in hand to hand combat against any opponent. We reinterpret the ‘cuirass’ rule to nicely account for the continued and effective use of shields in African Warfare. The effect is subtle but sufficient to make a difference against opponents not similarly equipped.

The Tribal Charge reflects the impact of added impetus in a vigorous assault spurred on by a suitable leader. Sharp Practice player swill recognise that this is the Pas de charge rule that applies to a French Napoleonic army, excluding the added move bonus as the Masai already get that with their ‘Swift’ charactersitic.

In this way we have subtly reinterpreted existing rules to account for these Masai characteristics.

The Moveable Deployment Point trait is also available to Masai Warriors. We limit the use of the Tactical traits (described below) to reflect the larger groupings of the Masai Warriors. The Moveable DP seems advantage enough (at least at this point). Both these traits are described below along with the Archer and Musketeer entries.




Other Masai

The Masai were mostly composed of spear and shield armed warriors as we’ve described above, however they could have a small proportion of elders and youth archers in their force, usually when defending their settlements or perhaps in a great emergency with ‘all hands on deck’.

Unlike many other tribal peoples that came into contact with the ‘white man’, the Masai shunned the use of firearms, considering them cowardly weapons and not the mark of a true warrior. The Masai Arusha Tribesmen however were less precious about their honour when it came to using firearms, no doubt influenced by their proximity to the coast and thereby having a greater degree of interaction with Arab traders. The Unit Roster below describes the Arusha Musketeers and the Masai Tribal Archers.

Sharp Practice doesn’t have a weapon attribute for Bows however this should be easy enough to remedy for our purposes. The types of bows used by the Masai were not that powerful and thus are of limited value compared to firearms, which is one reason why the musket was so readily adopted by many African tribes peoples.

To reflect the Bow we shall limit its range but allow it to have no reload requirement thus producing the desired effect. Whilst not deadly, if they get up close they could be quite effective.

Bow: A bow fires with 1 Dice. It does not need to reload and is considered to have an Effective range band of 0-12” ie 1 Dice, No Reload, 0-12” (effective…5 or 6 to hit).


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The unit roster is fairly simple and typical of many tribal skirmisher types and would be reflective of many similar troops in Africa. They are treated as Irregular Skirmishers with no real firepower advantages though the play of Command Flags wether musket or bow armed other than that the musket armed troops could potentially produce a negative morale effect against some troops, which archers would not (except perhaps Pygmy archers).

This could easily be accounted for by susceptible troops treating their first round of musket fire they receive as a ‘Crushing Volley’ even though this isn’t what the firer actually conducted in normal Sharp Practice terms…it would be a crushing volley to the unaccustomed however!…this is a simple and elegant reinterpretation of an existing rule that works rather well I think.

Unlike normal Sharp Practice where being rated as a Poor Shots only gives a relatively small adjustment in shooting dice ( -1D6 per group), we will need to increase this effect as a defining feature of this period is the generally abysmal shooting effectiveness of irregulars equipped with firearms, these ‘trade muskets’ being of some dubious origins.  We shall create a ‘type’ of shooting class to account for this very poor firing ability with firearms by African tribesmen – Tribal Shooters.

Tribal Shooters shall deduct two dice per group (-2D6) when a unit fires ie 4 firing dice not 6. In addition treat all firing up to 12″ as Effective range (5 or 6 to hit) and 12″-24″ as Long range (6 to hit).

Tribal Shooters: -2D6 per Group, effective range 0-12″, long range  12″-24″.


These simple yet subtle changes should produce the requisite game loss rates typifying African tribal musketry capability i.e. not good!


Note – I plan on doing some Masai conversions with muskets…still working on it…these will do for now!


The other two traits the musketmen have are Tactical and Moveable DP (Deployment Point) points. The rule for these traits (as per normal SP) are as follows;

Tactical: The ability to make the best use of terrain and surprise. Units who have a Tactical Characteristic can perform an Ambuscade when they are activated and have two Command Cards available to use.

Moveable Deployment Point: If a force has at least one Unit with the Moveable Deployment Point characteristic, it may select a Moveable Deployment Point as a support option. Moveable Deployment Points have a number characteristics defined in the rules but essentially they allow a leader when he is activated to move a deployment point from which any attributed unit can deploy from…in our case, all warriors, musketeers and archers can avail themselves of this ability as they have the Moveable Deployment Point trait.

These two traits taken together provide the Masai Archers and Arusha musketeers an ability to ‘pop up’ in places an opponent can’t easily predict. Masai Warriors also use the Moveable Deployment trait to reflect this natural ability. The two traits very nicely provide a method of reflecting the degree to which tribal forces can move and ambush slower or less nimble opponents.


Masai Support List

One last point for the Masai is that they we restrict their access to the full suite support list options in the main rules. If one looks at the possible support list choices it is obvious that many are not appropriate. Therefore we limit the Masai to the following support list choices;

  • Witchdoctor
  • Scout
  • Dummy Moveable Deployment Point
  • Moveable Deploy-ment Point
  • Status I Leader
  • Status II Leader

On the list you will see there is an  ‘extra’ support list choice…Witchdoctor.





In Sharp Practice there are rules for Holy Men. These will work for many characters of this type but African Witchdoctors had slightly different effects to those described in the main rules. Therefore, staying true to form, we shall build off the existing rule as this will give us the desired in-game effect for our Witchdoctor. In essence a Witchdoctor should not only have an ability to improve their friend’s morale but they should have the potential to effect a susceptible enemy’s as well. We shall use the following rules to account for this;

Witchdoctor (1pt): A witchdoctor may cause enemy to tremble and/or your troop’s spirits to rise. Such mysticism does not effect ‘white men’, muslims, regular troops and pygmies.

Follow all the normal rules for Holy Men (p80).

In addition a Witchdoctor may attempt to cast a curse. He does this in the same way other troops fire, following all the normal targeting rules. This is done by nominating a valid target that he can see within 12” and rolling 6D6, with each 5 or 6 causing a point of shock. If he scores 4 or more points of shock in a single attack the target immediately doubles the amount of shock…a crashing curse! However, if a Witchdoctor does not cause any shock in his attack then he loses his ability for the rest of the game. If eliminated his loss is counted as that of a Prominent Leader i.e. roll twice on the Force Morale table and drop from Clan to Tribe for the effected unit.

By adding this effect to the use of the Holy Man rules we more accurately reflect a Withchdoctor in this period…at least to my mind!


Command Flags?

Lastly, we shall use the army classification system that we have used in Rifles & Spears to provide some command and control flavour using the Sharp Practice game system. By using the tribal, organise, disciplined rating system we can give each side three, four, or five command flags to reflect a sort of command and control benefit to one side or another. Whilst this is somewhat experimental at this point it is discussed in the rule book as a potential mechanism to differentiate one force from another. Therefore, it seems appropriate that we can use this quite simple method as we already have classified each army type and thus can produce variation even amongst the same types of forces that are trained and organised to varying levels of competency. For the Masai, their rating is TRIBAL so they will only get three command flags in the bag instead of the usual four.


All these ideas and thoughts are incorporated in the Masai list which may be downloaded here. Whilst some changes may be made to the above ideas they should give the effects we are looking for to reflect the Masai warriors in Sharp Practice – Darkest Africa.

Interestingly, whilst the Masai have relatively simple Unit Rosters the traits and the way Sharp Practice enables these unit types to deploy in the game provides the warrior player with many tactical choices before launching his attacks and planning has battle.

…what about their opposition? In the next post we shall take a look at the Explorer list and see how they compare to the warriors of the steppe….







One thought on “Sharp Practice – Masai

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