Supporting Cast

Frederick Townsend Ward

A Historical Character for GURPS

by James L. Cambias

A Time Traveler?

Of course, maybe Ward wasn't ahead of his time so much as out of his time. Certainly he had many features which suggest a visitor from the future -- his unusual lack of racial prejudice, his keen grasp of cutting-edge military tactics, and his attention to "winning hearts and minds" as well as battles. The Taiping Rebellion and the failure of the Manchu rulers to adapt to Western encroachments set the stage for the Boxer Rebellion, the Japanese invasion, and the rise of the Communists. Perhaps Ward was a time traveler hoping to change history by making China more stable and progressive. Or maybe Ward was from an alternate future, working to prevent China from becoming a world power too soon by keeping the corrupt and ineffective Manchus in power for another generation -- in which case his death may have been faked once he accomplished his mission.

Illuminated Ward

China in the 1860s was a hotbed of foreign and domestic conspiracies anyway, so it's not too hard to make Ward an agent of one or more Secret Masters. His constant world travel could easily be the movements of a crack field operative.

Ward's background in Salem points to a possible connection with the Anglo-American "Insiders," Masons and their Bavarian Illuminati masters, or Gnomes of Zurich-style business interests -- any one of which would profit by keeping China unstable and ripe for plundering. On the other side, given Ward's opposition to both European colonialists and the corrupt Manchu rulers, he might be trying to liberate China on behalf of the benevolent masters of Shangri-La or the anarchist precursors of the Discordian Society.

Going into battle against the mystical Taiping rebels might serve the interests of a magical conspiracy group like the Cabal or the Adepts of Hermes. It might also serve the interests of the cult of Cthulhu: Salem is not far from Lovecraft's Innsmouth.

Finally, there's the matter of Ward's appearance. Small, unusually strong, almost emotionless, and with eyes of a color no one can describe -- is Ward an alien in disguise? Only the Secret UFO Masters know for sure.

The Ever-Victorious Army

Ward's force at its peak numbers 4,000 men, making it more of a brigade than a corps. The troops are all Chinese or Filipino, armed with Colt revolvers and Sharps rifles and trained in European-style drill and tactics. They wear green tunics and turbans. In game terms, they are Average TL5 troops, which makes them a highly formidable unit when faced with the Green and Raw TL4 Taiping armies. The Ever-Victorious Army is supported by a large artillery battery equipped with a varied mix of field guns, howitzers, and cannon.

Lived 1831-1862. A wiry, dark-haired American man 5'7" tall, with black shoulder-length hair and a black mustache and imperial. Descriptions give his eye color as either black, deep hazel, or dark blue.


F.T. Ward was born November 29, 1831 in Salem, Massachusetts. His father was a sea captain and a stern disciplinarian both on ship and at home. Young Fred went to sea as second mate on a merchant ship in 1847, but already he was becoming interested in soldiering. He spent a term in 1848 at a military school before going back to sea. After voyages to China and Latin America (where he met the exiled Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi), Ward became a mercenary soldier. He served under William Walker on an abortive invasion of Mexico in 1852, and fought in the Crimean War in the French army.

In late 1859 Ward arrived in Shanghai just as the city was threatened by the advancing armies of the Taiping rebels. The Taiping movement needed a new base of supply and new sources of loot, and Shanghai offered both in abundance. The Manchu government could not spare troops to protect the city, and the European powers were reluctant to be drawn into a Chinese internal conflict.

The Chinese and foreign merchants of Shanghai weren't about to let themselves be plundered by a rebel army of religious fanatics. The energetic young American Fred Ward offered a solution: he would organize a mercenary force under his own command (but at least theoretically loyal to the Manchu rulers of China) and stop the Taiping forces. The mercenary army wasn't big enough to mount a major offensive against the Taiping forces, but it didn't need to be. By defending Shanghai, it served as the anvil, while a much larger Chinese army moving downriver from Hunan acted as the hammer to crush the Taipings.

During 1860-1862, Ward's mercenary force, known variously as the "Foreign Arms Corps," the "Chinese Foreign Legion," or simply the "Ward Corps," scored a remarkable series of victories against the Taipings. After a bad experience with using European mercenaries, Ward kept his unit all-Chinese, trained and equipped Western style, with American and French officers and British NCOs. The fact that many of his British noncoms were deserters did not endear Ward to the British authorities in Shanghai. By 1862, the force was given the title of "Ever-Victorious Army," and it very nearly lived up to the name.

Ward's battlefield success won him wealth and acclaim. He collected a bounty from his backers for each town captured from the Taipings. The Manchu government honored him by making him a Mandarin and giving him a commission in the Imperial army. Remarkably, in 1861 Ward proposed marriage to Chang-mei, the daughter of his patron Yang Fang. They were married in proper Chinese fashion.

Sadly, the marriage was doomed to be short. Ward was killed on September 21, 1862, during an assault on the town of Tz'u-ch-i. He was almost 31 years old at the time of his death.

Ward's effect on history is potentially large. Without the Ever-Victorious Army, Shanghai's only defense would have been the French and English regular troops, and the campaign would have quickly turned into a scramble for more colonial influence. This could have hastened the collapse of the Manchu dynasty -- ending the Chinese Empire 50 years early and plunging the whole country into chaos.

Alternately, the Taiping conquest of Shanghai might have given the rebellion a much-needed second wind. A more successful Taiping movement might either unify China and kick out the foreign influences a century before Communism, or else provoke a united response from the colonial powers, bringing about a complete partition of the country under foreign rule. The success of Ward's army helped preserve China's rickety Manchu regime for another half century.

Encountering Ward

Player characters in 1860s China can encounter Ward in a number of ways. The most obvious is professional; characters with military experience can join the Ever-Victorious Army as officers or NCOs, especially if they have valuable skills (engineering, artillery, medical, intelligence, etc.)

The swirl of intrigue in Shanghai could also put the PCs and Ward on opposite sides. There are many powerful factions who would like to be rid of him -- the Imperial Court, the British, and of course the Taipings. Shady characters could get hired to kidnap or assassinate Ward. Not that getting past China's best-trained military force will be easy.

Ward makes a great patron or ally for adventurers. Maybe he needs to organize a special-forces unit for the Ever-Victorious Army, and hires the PCs to form the core of his elite force. Characters who stumble into occult mysteries in China can certainly use the help of a tactical genius and a heavily-armed military force.

Finally, Ward makes a pretty good villain for a party of Chinese martial artists. Making him evil requires little more than a shift in emphasis. After all, he really was making a fortune out of China's most bloody civil war. Downplay his concern for the Chinese people and make his marriage to Chang-mei either a simple matter of political scheming, or else a temporary liason which Ward intends to abandon as soon as he can build up a fortune and return to America. For a completely over-the-top bad guy, make Ward a megalomaniac planning to take over China as the first step to conquering the world! Can a band of martial-arts masters beat the "Imitation Foreign Devils" of Ward's army and preserve China for the Mandate of Heaven?

Other GURPS Settings

GURPS Black Ops

The Taiping Rebellion has Grey plot written all over it. By the time the Company's Black Riders (see Ken Hite's "Shades of Black: Alternate Black Ops") learns the truth, it's too big to stop covertly. So instead they send in a top agent to fight fire with fire. Sure, Fred Ward's just one Black Op, but there's only one Taiping Rebellion, isn't there?

GURPS Castle Falkenstein

With hardly any changes other than letting him live into the 1870s, Frederick Townsend Ward would make an excellent member of the Second Compact. His tolerant nature and knowledge of the Far East nicely complement Sir Richard Burton's expertise on India and the Muslim world. For an interesting melodramatic twist, "Frederick Townsend Ward" might have been the nom de guerre of a well-known 1870s character -- Phileas Fogg, Auberon, Captain Nemo, or King Ludwig himself!

GURPS Traveller

Switch Ward's military skills for TL12 abilities like grav tank piloting, fusion gunner, or Battle Dress, and he could be a mercenary commander defending the Imperial starport on a planet torn by civil war. Or leave his skills as they are and make him a specialist in early-TL5 warfare operating on a low-tech world.

ST 13 [30], DX 12 [20], IQ 12 [20], HT 12 [20]. Move 6.

Advantages: Imperturbable [10], Military Rank 7 [30], Patron (Yang Fang, a Chinese banker) [10], Status 3 (free from Wealth and Military Rank) [0], Voice [5], Wealth (Wealthy) [20].

Disadvantages: Dependent (his wife Chang-mei) [-24], Reputation (headstrong foreign adventurer, among Chinese officials and Shanghai colonial leaders, -2 reaction, all the time) [-3], Sense of Duty (to his troops) [-5], Social Stigma (white devil barbarian) [-15].

Quirks: Broad-minded, Has no respect for authority, Leads from the front, Suspicious of British [-4].

Skills: Area Knowledge-13 (Yangtze delta region) [2], Area Knowledge-13 (World) [1], Black Powder Weapons-15 (Colt Dragoon revolver) [2], Boating-12 [2], Brawling-12 [1], Diplomacy-12 [4], First Aid-11 [1/2], Gunner-12 (Muzzle-loading cannon) [2], Leadership-14 [6], Merchant-12 [2], Navigation-12 [3 1/2], Riding-10 [1/2], Savoir-Faire-12 [1], Seamanship-14 [4], Strategy-14 (land) [8], Swimming-12 [1], Tactics-14 [8].

Languages: English (native), French-11 [1], Spanish-11 [1], Canton Chinese-9 [1/2]

Equipment: In battle, Ward typically carries nothing more formidable than a rattan cane as a mark of authority. If he did need a weapon, it would probably be a Colt revolver or Sharps rifle. He wears a plain blue military-style coat with no insignia. For his wedding, and at formal occasions among Chinese officials, Ward wears a mandarin's clothing including a peacock feather as badge of rank.

This is Ward shortly before his death. Before late 1861 he has no Dependent. His Wealth is Struggling in 1859, Average in 1860, and Comfortable in 1861. Ward's Military Rank starts out as 4 in 1860 when his mercenary force is established, increasing as the force grows in size. His social advantages and disadvantages reflect his position in Chinese society -- a barbarian outsider who has nevertheless achieved high position. Note that Ward does not have a Duty to China -- though technically under the orders of the provincial governor, in practice he makes his own strategy and ignores instructions.

Ward never did learn much Chinese. His skill level is the minimum possible, and he probably can't read the language at all. All his skills are TL5.

To make Ward even more cinematic than he was in real life, give him the Hard to Kill advantage (he was wounded in battle more than 15 times), Daredevil, or Toughness.

Point total: 165

Article publication date: June 6, 2003

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