Sunday, 20 August 2017

Gen Con - Still Rolling

The first two days of GenCon have been wonderful and intense. I am, unfortunately, suffering from the double blows of jet-lag and a cold, and my voice is dropping in and out, but it's been wonderful none-the-less. Thanks to everyone who has come by the stand to talk to me about Frostgrave or have a look at Ghost Archipelago. It's a great opportunity for me to be able to talk face-to-face with fans of the game and to hear what they like and don't like about it. In fact, many of the little tweaks to the system that are found in Ghost Archipelago come from the feedback I've gotten at conventions and online.

In bad news, the Ghost Archipelago has claimed its first victim. At some point during the day, the sample copy of the rulebook fell over and crushed Portock, snapping off his axe head. This is the major downside to using resin sample casts as opposed to the metals that are coming! Bar very delicate drilling, I don't actually know how to fix this, and I probably won't bother.

In other news, I have a Frostgrave show-down tonight with one of the bloggers from Geek Dad and a couple of his friends. I thought the occasion called for a new d20. I saw this red-sparkly one on the Chessex stand and couldn't resist. It just looks like the kind of die you should make spell rolls with. Now, I know what you are probably thinking: 'hey, he's the writer of the game, he doesn't need the advantage of a new die, one that still has its full compliment of luck'. Maybe, but my track record for convention games is rather poor - plus, I just realized that I left my warhound at home, so I'll be going in a man (dog) down! 

I'll let you know how the game goes. There are rumours of pizza being involved, so even if it goes poorly, I suspect the night will be a win!

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago Demo

I wanted to share a shot of the complete Ghost Archipelago demo that I am running at GenCon. Not a bad set-up for the small table available. The really cool wooden platform terrain is from Death Ray Designs (although I can't find it on their website at the moment). The set includes some much bigger pieces that I didn't have room for, and you can set each platform at one of three different heights. The mat underneath is from Cigar Box Battles. It's actually a mat they made specifically for some Frostgrave scenarios set underground, but it actually works well as a watery base.

The first day went poorly for Vasha. I can't say I'm hugely surprised; he's the more subtle, and thus harder to play, Heritor, especially in a demo. That said, people seem a bit shy about having him throw knives, which is something he's really good at! He make my favourite move of the day when he leapt up onto a box and kicked the Wind Warden into the water!

Big Red has been having a better time. She showed just how deadly she can be, once inflicting a massive 16 points of damage on a Fight Roll of 17! That poor little archer was not recovered...

All-and-all, it has gone well today. Thanks to everyone who has come by to take a look at Ghost Archipelago or just talk about Frostgrave. It's always good to hear that people are enjoying the game.

I've only seem a bit of the rest of the convention. After waking up at 2:30 this morning (thanks, jet-lag) and then spending ten hours in the dealer hall, I am completely shot. Which is too bad, if I wanted to, I could go see They Might Be Giants, who are playing at GenCon, and still have plenty of time to make it back for the Pathfinder games that are starting at 2am!

Trocket, Archer

Providing the Heritor, Vasha Tune, with covering fire is Trocket the Archer, constructed from the Ghost Archipelago plastic Crew set that will be released at the same time as the game. Since I’m using such small warbands for the demo, I suspect he’ll also be used to pick up treasure tokens.

Ghost Archipelago has a slightly different (and I think better) set-up with regards to treasure tokens. In Ghost Archipelago, one treasure token is placed in the centre of the table. This is known as the 'central treasure' (original, I know) and it grants bonuses to treasure rolls. Each player then places two additional tokens. Unlike Frostgrave, where there are generally three tokens per player, which has a tendency to create ‘ties’, Ghost Archipelago will always have an uneven number, including one that is better than the rest. This tends to make the games more competitive and gives players more reason to really fight it out. This is a change that I will probably implement in Frostgrave when the chance presents itself. Also, unlike Frostgrave, when the game ends, the remaining player does not necessarily recover unclaimed treasure tokens.

The other difference with treasure tokens is they just aren’t as lucrative as in Frostgrave. The Ghost Archipelago is filled with treasure, but not to the extent of the Frozen City. Players are going to have to work a little harder to build their treasuries and grow their warbands (although this is somewhat offset by free standard crewman).

I await feedback on both of these changes!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Covis, Earth Warden

Supporting Vasha in his adventures in the Ghost Archipelago, is the Earth Warden, Covis. For Covis’s four spells, I chose Projectile, for offensive punch; Earthen Wall, to cut lines of sight; Earth Blood, to aid everyone in the warband; and the Water Warden spell, Amphibious, because, well, there is a lot of water around…

Water plays a large role in Ghost Archipelago and is chiefly encountered through two rules, swimming and small boats. Swimming comes into play any time a figure activates while in deep water. That figure must immediately make a Will Roll, with penalties for wearing armour or carrying shields or treasure. If the role is failed, the figure receives no actions and will take drowning damage. Otherwise, he can activate as normal, swimming around and fighting with penalties. Of course, if the figure is somehow amphibious, it does not need to make the roll nor does it suffers any penalties.

Now, most Ghost Archipelago scenarios are set completely on land, but there are a few that involve deep water. In these scenarios, the players are often given the option of putting their figures into small boats. These boats can generally hold up to 6 figures, and have their own rules for movement and fighting. So, while larger ships are handled in the abstract, these smaller boats are on the table in the fights!

None of these rules are revolutionary or overly complex, but I think they go a long way to help giving the game some of its feel and to separate it from Frostgrave

Friday, 11 August 2017

Vasha Tune, Heritor

I suspect that this will be one of the most popular figures in the Ghost Archipelago line.

Meet Vasha Tune, the second Heritor who will be battling it out in my GenCon demo. Unlike his opposition who was an unsubtle combat monster, Vasha specializes in fighting on his own terms. For his stat advance, I gave him +1 Move. As Frostgrave players will know, that extra move can make a big difference. For his Heritor Abilities, I gave him Burning Eyes, which will help keep away the minor threats, and Evade to get him out of any fights he'd rather not be in. He also has Shadowfold, so he's difficult to shoot at. Finally, he has Leap, so he can get around even quicker, and Deadeye, which makes him scary when throwing knives. 

He would likely lose a straight up fight against Big Red, but she has to catch him first - and dodge a bunch of incoming knives! 

In the rulebook, there are thirty different Heritor Abilities to choose from. I have also made a table for those really 'old school' players who want to roll for random Abilities. This lead me to a problem - do you know how difficult it is to create a table with 30 equally probable outcomes using nothing but a 20-sided die. Go on, try it! In the end, I cheated slightly, and some Abilities have a slightly higher probability than others, but there you go.

The irony is that while I was working on this, my friend gave me a pack of 'unusual dice' that actually includes a 30-sider. I was sorely tempted to put the table in there using the d30, just so we would all have an excuse to have one!


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Oren, Archer

Here is the last member of Collandra's little band. In the demo, I'll only be using four figures a side for the sake of brevity. Full Ghost Archipelago crews will be 10 figures, and since standard crewmen are free, there really isn't much reason for a player to ever have less than that, unless dictated by a scenario.

Oren, here, was made from a test sprue of the Ghost Archipelago plastic crewmen. If you like swashbuckling adventurer types, you are going to love this sprue...

Sorry about the poor photo quality. I just finished painting this guy, and most of my equipment, scenery, and what not are packed up for the move. He seems to have come out a much darker purple than he actually is!

In Ghost Archipelago, shooting works pretty much the same as it does in Frostgrave. In fact, there are only two, minor, difference and neither relates to the actual mechanics of shooting. The first is that 'quivers' are now items. So, an archer must have a bow and a quiver to shoot. This makes no difference at all to the crew, but for characters like Heritors, it means they have to devote 2 item slots to having a bow or crossbow. This is a balancing mechanism, to make shooting more 'expensive'. It didn't matter much in Frostgrave, where magic was the main thrust, but it matters a lot in a game focusing on warriors. The second, related, difference is that I have included 'throwing knives' as a weapon. This is essentially a one-shot ranged attack, that can also be used as desperation back-up weapon. I honestly don't know how important an addition to the game that is, but it is fun and cool so I wanted it in there!

Next time, we'll take a look at the opposition!

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago - It exists!


I am interrupting today's scheduled blog to show off this, that just arrived by post!



And now I can throw away the huge print out that I have been using as a reference!




Monday, 7 August 2017

Verith, Wind Warden



The next to join Collandra’s band of adventures is Verith, the Wind Warden. How cool a figure is he? A blind archer with no bow!

It was important to me, when I started work on Ghost Archipelago, that Wardens have a different feel and purpose than the wizards of Frostgrave. I decided early on that I would make the Wardens animists, that all of them would have some tie to nature. This fit well with the setting, as the Ghost Archipelago is such natural, alive place (as opposed to the dead, artificial city of Frostgrave). So, I invented five different branches of Warden magic, and gave each branch 6 different spells to choose from. A starting Warden chooses three spells from their own branch, and one from a different branch. Wardens have significantly less spells that the wizards, partly because they are meant to be less powerful, but also because, with players already having to keep track of their Heritor Abilities, I didn’t want the game to get too confusing! However, the good news for Wardens is that they never take damage from failing to cast spells, also, on average, their spells have lower casting numbers.

In this way, I hope, Wardens become more of the supporting pieces they are meant to be. Powerful individuals, but not as dangerous or as dominate as the Heritors. Also, I think players will be happy to hear, Wardens gain experience and levels independently, thus giving players essentially two ‘characters’ that can grow over the course of a campaign.

So, what about Verith? He’s a Wind Warden, so I gave him three spells from his branch: Windblast, to push people around; True Flight, to support any archers, and Dust Devil for a little damage potential. I also gave him the Wave Warden spell: Water of Life for some potential healing when things go wrong!

Friday, 4 August 2017

Portock, Freebooter


Following on from my last post, this is the first of ‘Big Red’s support team. Portock is a Freebooter who carries a big axe!

For the most part, the ‘crew’ in Ghost Archipelago are very similar to the soldiers in Frostgrave, despite having different names in most cases. There is one large difference though. Crew are now divided into two categories: standard and specialists. Standard crewman are basically thugs from Frostgrave except the player has a few options on how they are equipped. The critical thing about standard crewmen is that they are free. In this way, even if you have a terrible game in which all of your crew are killed and you recover no treasure at all, you can still go back to your ship, get some more crewmen, and still have a full complement of fighters for the next game.

Specialists are crew that you’ve hired specifically to help you on your adventures, and tend to be warriors of various types, not sailors – such as the Freebooter here. You can only have four specialists in your warband, so you have to think pretty carefully about which ones you take. Which do you value more, long ranged firepower, or staying power? Also, specialist crewman are not so easy to replace. To hire new specialists requires a trip back to the mainland, which is an expensive proposition.

Thankfully, whenever you lose a specialist, you can replace them with a standard crewman until such time as you can make the journey home

* * *

In the last post, a couple of people asked about a creature list for Ghost Archipelago. While I'm flattered that people want to get ready to play the game in advance, I don't think it would be right for me to give out a creature list before North Star and Osprey Games have put the official figures up for sale. While I have, and continue, to encourage players to use whatever figures they want for the game, I think it is only right that the producers that directly support the game (and it's author) get the first chance to tempt you!

More notes in the next day or two. 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The First Heritor!





























In a few weeks, about four days after I move house, I am off to Indianapolis for GenCon. I’ll be spending much of my time on the Osprey Games stand, where I will be running mini-demonstration games of Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago. With that deadline looming, I figured I’d better get some figures painted up to play! Also, it is probably about time I started talking about the game.

So, here is the first Ghost Archipelago figure I have painted. It’s actually an advance resin sample, not one of the nicer metals that will be released. It was sculpted to match one of the great Burmak art pieces in the book.

I’ve dubbed her Collandra, although her friends all call her ‘Big Red’. She’s a Heritor from a long line of powerful warriors. When creating a Heritor, you get to pick one ‘stat advancement’. In this case it was a pretty easy decision to increase her Fight. More difficult was picking her five starting Heritor Abilities. After a bit of thought, I selected Crushing Blow and Fling, which gives her a choice of nasty things to do to her enemies when she beats them in hand-to-hand combat. The rest of her abilities are more defensive. Spellshield to protect her from pesky Wardens. Mitigation to soften the blow of powerful attacks, and Standfirm so that no one can push her around.

In truth, she’s a pretty straightforward ‘tank’; there is not a lot of subtlety to her game, but that is often the best idea when running demos where you don’t have a lot of time, space, or quiet to go into the finer details. Just to make her point clear, I’ve equipped her with a two-handed weapon, a back-up hand weapon, and leather armour.

Now, she just needs a Warden and a few loyal crewmen to follow her in her adventures in the Lost Isles! 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Doctor Who: The Burning Prince

Sometimes, life gets temporarily so complicated, that you can actually forget the things that make you happy. Weird, but true. For example, for years (decades?) one of my favourite activities has been painting miniatures while listening to audio drams - usually Doctor Who. However, over the last year, I have had so little time to paint, that I temporarily forgot. My painting sessions became speed challenges - get out the paints, paint as fast as possible, get it all put away again, before life (children) intervened. It often didn't even occur to me to bust out the headphones as well. 

In truth these sessions rarely achieved much in the way of happiness, and thus they became even more infrequent.

Lately, I have been thinking about my own happiness, and I realized that this is something I need back in my life. So, I acquired a few audios, booked out some uninterrupted painting time, and got back to this simple pleasure.

One of the first of this new round of audio adventures was Doctor Who: The Burning Prince, a really excellent example of Big Finish Productions. This is Doctor Who in full action/horror mode. In tone, it is more similar to Aliens and Predator than anything else. Although one might be skeptical about action done in an audio format, I challenge you to listen to the first 30 - 40 minutes of this adventure and not get caught up in the narrative drive. The tight script is greatly aided by the backing music and sound production. 

In fact, the drive is so furious, that it can't quite be maintained for the full two-hours, and the second half doesn't quite live up to the first, but it is still a strong story overall.

Usually, Peter Davidson is not my favourite audio Doctor; however, it was really nice to hear him in this adventure, free from his usual overload of companions.

For those who might be thinking of picking it up, I encourage them to do so. It is a nice stand-alone adventure - though it hints at sequels. I will warn that it is also a product of a very specific, and very dark, era of Doctor Who, when the show bordered on nihilism. Not a an era I want to visit often, but it certainly was enjoyable this time around.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

50 Bananas!

It's incredible how quickly time passes. Approximately one year ago, I set myself a challenge to eat 50 bananas, a fruit I have never liked and always generally been suspicious about. You can read all about it in this post.

I actually completed the challenge in about three months, but with everything that has been going on in life, I never got around to writing about the results. Which is a shame, because the results were rather extraordinary.

My two main gripes against bananas were that I didn't like the texture, and I didn't like the taste. The first few I really had to choke down. They were just so squishy...

My issue with the texture actually disappeared rather quickly. Certainly by banana 10, I wasn't even thinking about it. I mean really, most food ends up a big squish mess anyway. The taste issue took longer, but day by day, I could actually detect a change. Slowly my reaction to the taste went from very unpleasant, to just unpleasant, to indifference, to very mild enjoyment.

It's true, by the time I had eaten the fiftieth banana, some three months after I ate the first, I just slightly enjoyed the experience.

Since I finished my challenge, I have eaten bananas irregularly. (They are just so cheap versus their nutritional value!). They are still way down on the list of fruits I enjoy eating, but they are on the list.

So, does this prove that you can make yourself like certain foods? Perhaps not, but it certainly showed me that eating something numerous times can definitely change my opinion of them in a positive way.  Next up - corguettes!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

A Quick Spellcaster Poll

First off, a big thank you to everyone who has bought a copy of Spellcaster! I don't think it is challenging White Dwarf in terms of sales, nor is it going to allow me to retire tomorrow, but it has certainly sold well enough to get me thinking about the second issue. On that note, I wanted to get a little feedback about how the issue could be improved.

What you've got in Issue 1 is what I can accomplish for $5. So, my question is, which of the following items would you be willing to pay $1 more for, if any.

Professional Layout

Internal Artwork

Professional Miniature Photography

More Rules Content

Other Articles (Miniature Painting / Terrain Building / etc.)

Fiction

Other (Let Me Know)

Are any of those worth $1 to you? In theory, the magazine could include all of them, although the price would then be closer to $12, rather than the current $5. Or, are you happy with the basic style, content, and look of Issue 1?

Either way, if you could comment below on what you would like to see for Issue 2, it will help me decide how to approach the next issue, and what improvements the readers would like to see.

Finally, I know a lot of people would like to see the magazine in a print form. For the moment, that's just not an option. Maybe someday a print compendium will appear, but for now, Spellcaster is going to remain a digital only product.  

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Chapter 41

I am currently down on the Kentish coast, looking at houses. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

About a month ago, I turned 41. Normally, my birthday passes with little fuss, but this year I made a big deal out of it, by making it the first day of my new working life. It was the day I became a half-time freelance writer, half-time work from home employee. Actually, I decided to give myself the day off, and took the kids to the zoo instead (oh, the joys of being able to go to the zoo on a quiet Monday!).

This reorganization of my work was only the first step in my family’s master plan to rearrange our life. Step 2 was leaving Oxford (after 11 great years) and moving down to the Kentish coast to be near the sea, one set of grandparents, and one set of great grand-parents. We already have a buyer lined up for our house in Oxford, and that sale is progressing. It should hopefully complete early next month. Our plan is then to temporarily move in with my in-laws while we work on getting a new house of our own in Kent. It will be a bit of squeeze, especially with all of our stuff, but it is wonderful that we have that option.

In truth, I’m sure it will all be a bit of a pain, but if you want to change your life for the better, you often have to experience a bit of discomfort in the short term.
I’ll let you know how it all goes.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Spellcaster is Now Available

Today is the Day

In case you missed the news last week, today I am releasing Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine. This first issue contains all kinds of goodies for lovers of the Frozen City, including rules for black powder firearms, horses, knightly orders, and a bunch of new scenarios. 

The magazine is only available digitally. You can buy it now from RPG Now. Or, it  can now be pre-ordered on Amazon and should be released on July 2 (Although it is saying July 7 at the moment).  If neither of these work for you, drop me a line and you can buy it directly from me.

Once you've had a chance to look it over, come on back here and let me know what you think. This is the first issue, and I'm sure there is plenty I can do to improve upon it.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine

Coming next Friday, June 30

For anyone who can’t get enough Frostgrave, I’ve got an exciting announcement. Next Friday, June 30, I will be releasing the first issue of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine

This is a PDF-only magazine, mostly written and assembled by myself. While I have the blessing of Osprey Games, this is a purely independent project. It’s a chance for me to write rules and other game material that either don’t really fit the game world or just don’t mesh well with any of the major releases. It does also mean the internal layout is done by myself, so don't expect anything amazing there!

So what is in this inaugural issue?

* Rules for using black powder firearms
* Rules for horses in the Frozen City
* Rules for Knightly Orders which add variety to your knights and templars
* Alone in the Crypt – a solo Frostgrave scenario in which you play a captain with a quiver-full of magic arrows trying to escape a crypt full of undead
* The Catacombs of the Evrenbright – a three scenario mini-campaign originally created for Adepticon 2017

Also, as you can see, I’ve managed to convince Frostgrave veteran, Dmitry Burmak to help out with cover art!

This issue of Spellcaster will consist of 18 pages, have a cover price of $5, and will initially be available through RPG Now and Wargames Vault, with Amazon hopefully following soon as well. If none of these work for you, feel free to contact me, and I’m sure we can work something out.

HT Publishers will also be producing a Spanish edition of the magazine which will be available on the same day. 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

A New Wizard in Frostgrave



Way back in April (seriously, it seems a long time ago), I took a trip to the USA for Adepticon. Among the many little treasure I came back with was this guy. This figure was given to me by one of the organizers of the show - apparently he commissions a figure every year as a personal give-away.

I think I have found my next wizard for Frostgrave! (Now I just need to find a game!).

Saturday, 27 May 2017

New Ulterior Motive Cards!

Just a heads-up to all of the Frostgrave fans.

The new issue of Miniature Wargames (#410) contains a short interview in which editor John Treadaway asks me about the new Ulterior Motives expansion. More importantly, the interview also comes with two new, exclusive Ulterior Motive cards.

Now, I admit, it is going to take some creativity to figure out how to use these, since they are obviously printed on paper instead of card and have no back. Still, wargamers are a creative lot, so I have no doubt players will figure something out!


Thursday, 25 May 2017

My New Job: Wargames Developer

In the seven years I have been running this blog, I have tried to keep it separate from my day job. The Renaissance Troll has always been a place for me to ramble on about my thoughts, projects, and hobbies. For the most part, it has been a wargaming blog, as that has been my main hobby for the last decade or so.

As the years have gone by, however, the line between my hobby and my job has blurred. With the publication of Frostgrave two years ago, the line grew even murkier. Now I’ve pretty much gone and done away with the line completely.

In a few weeks I will be closing the book on my time as the Marketing Manager for Osprey Games. Instead, I will be taking a part-time, work-from-home position in the new role as the Wargames Developer for Osprey Games. In this position I will be working directly with the Head of Osprey Games on developing new wargaming systems and products that will be owned and controlled by Osprey Games. For the most part, I will be writing and testing wargames rules. At this point I can’t talk about any of the projects I will be working on. That said, people who follow Osprey Games can probably make a pretty good guess about my first area of work...

So, what does this mean for the world of Frostgrave? Well, it’s good news actually.  As I said, my new job is only a part-time position. The rest of my time will be spent as a freelance writer, and I will continue to work on Frostgrave in that capacity. This should mean that I actually have more time to spend on the game. It will also hopefully mean that I will have more time to explore other writing opportunities.

I am about to take a bit of a step into the unknown, and the new job is only one part of the life-change about to happen. There will be other things to talk about soon.

It’s all a tad scary, but with change, comes excitement, and I am very excited to get started in my new work.

What does this mean for The Renaissance Troll? Honestly, I have no idea.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Frostgrave: Let’s Talk Spellcasting Experience Points

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post talking about experience points in Frostgrave and some thoughts I had for changing the system. I got a great response to that post, which has helped push my thinking forward. In fact, I have decided that I am going to include an ‘Alternate Experience Points System’ in a Frostgrave supplement that is coming out next year. I just haven’t completely decided what it is going to include!

My biggest mental stumbling block continues to be experience points for spellcasting. Right now, a wizard receives 10 experience points for every spell he successfully casts. The more I have thought about this, the more I am convinced that it is both a good and bad piece of game design.

It is good in that it encourages spellcasting, which is what the game is primarily about. Also, players are rewarded for ‘accomplishing’ which feels right.

It is bad because it encourages a player to cast his or her easiest spell repeatedly, which detracts from the magical diversity of the game and lessens tactical interest. Additionally, as a wizard gets better, that one spell will get easier to cast, making experience points more likely and potentially creating an experience imbalance between players who use just one spell and those who like to use a range of spells. I don’t think this last point is a major issue, but it is an area for improvement.

So, here are two potential solutions I came up with in my musings on the problem. Both of them address the bad points of the current system, but also have an issue of their own!

Experience Points Based on Casting Number


Under this system, whenever a wizard successfully casts a spell, he or she would receive a number of experience points equal to the Casting Number for the spell. So, if a starting Necromancer casts Bone Dart (as so many of them do), they would receive 8 experience points, as that would be their starting Casting Number. If the Necromancer later decreases his Casting Number to 7, he would receive 7 experience points every time he successfully casts the spell.

There is an elegance to this system that I find very appealing. Players still receive experience for accomplishing, but the reward actually matches the level of accomplishment. It eliminates the problem of wizards cranking out experience for casting easy spells. It also gives a little bit of encouragement for wizards to cast their harder spells.

The only real drawback I see to this system is that it requires more paperwork and more math. Not a huge amount, in truth, but... time and time again, I have seen people say that one of the main reasons they find Frostgrave appealing, is that it is simple. This change would only increase the complexity by a small amount, but how many of these small changes can you make before a ‘simple’ system becomes ‘complex’?

If Frostgrave were a role-playing game, I would most likely use this system. As a ‘simple’ warmgame, I remain unsure.

Experience Points for Failure


I recently heard someone suggest that when considering a problem, it is often useful to ask yourself ‘what if I did the exact opposite?’. So, what if wizards earned 10 experience points every time they failed to cast a spell...

Actually, this is really interesting from a game design point of view. Once again it encourages players to attempt to cast their harder spells; though I suspect, more than any other system, it encourages players to attempt the ‘best’ spell for a given situation, which should lead to the best ‘game’. Beyond that though, it brings an entirely new element of balance to the game. Players that are failing to cast spells are less likely to secure treasure. Thus, they will be falling behind in the wealth and experience point race. Under this system, the failing spellcaster would be compensated by receiving more experience from failed spells.

In pure game mechanics terms, this system has a huge amount to offer. The problem is – it feels wrong to reward failure, and I suspect most players wouldn’t like it. I don’t know of any wargame or rpg that works this way. So, either this is a rather new and original idea – or it is just a bad idea that others have thought about and rejected.

I would be very interested to hear what other Frostgrave players think. Please comment below with any thoughts, suggestions, or original ideas that I can steal...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Play-Test Fun



























Hopefully there will be a bit of good news coming soon for fans of 'Warriors of Athena'.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Kornovik, Barbarian Outcast

Frostgrave just got a new 'coolest' minaiture...



























Last week I received an advance-casting of the newest Frostgrave miniature, and it is, by far, the largest model in the range. It is hoped that a limited number of these will be available for purchase at Salute, before the model goes on regular release later in the year. I don't have any details on pricing yet.

The miniature is cast in resin and came in about a dozen pieces, but thanks to the well thought-out design, all of the pieces fit together perfectly with no trouble at all. The model comes with a scenic base, but I prefer my minis on round bases.

It's actually a fun little story how this miniature came to be. Back before I had written the first word of Forgotten Pacts, I had to turn in an 'artwork brief' for the cover. I knew I wanted barbarians looking down on part of the city, but then, for reasons I can't remember, I decided to have one of them riding a giant woolly rhinoceros. In retrospect, why would I not want a woolly rhinoceros.

Dmitry Burmak did his usual amazing job and took my vague brief and delivered another great cover, including a barbarian chief riding a super cool rhino. When the cover went live, it prompted a lot of comments and excitement that the supplement would include rules for mounted soldiers. I didn't want to disappoint people, but I had already decided that I was not going to include rules for mounts - partly because I don't think they generally belong in the Frozen City, but also because I haven't yet found a way to make such rules work (yet).

Instead, I decided I would work the guy on the cover into the book as a special character, and thus, Kornovik, the Barbarian Outcast was born. And there, I thought the matter would rest.

Then Nick Eyre over at North Star starts wondering if Kornovik should have his own miniature. Phil Smith at Osprey thinks he should. Nick spoke to Giorgio Bassani, who sculpted all of the Frostgrave barbarians for Forgotten Pacts. Giorgio said he would like to give it a try, but that he'd like to CAD sculpt it (for us Luddites, that basically means sculpt it on a computer). Since all of the previous figures in the range had been traditionally sculpted, no one was quite sure about this...

However, Giorgio went ahead and started, and it became clear, pretty early, that he both he and the computer program were up to the challenge. He had to make a few changes from the guy depicted on the cover. For one thing, he had to give him a bow, since I'd given Kornovik one in the rules. He also put him in a more battle-ready stance.

Now, I'm lucky enough to have one of the first Kornovik models in existence. I can't wait to get a paint brush on him!

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Victory's Knife on Amazon

My fantasy, fiction anthology Victory's Knife is now available on Amazon as both a Kindle ebook and a print-on-demand paperback. (I have ordered a copy of the later, but have no seen it, so I can't comment on the printing quality yet).

If you are in the UK you can find it at these links:

Kindle

Print-On-Demand

For those ordering on Amazon.com you can find it here:

Kindle

Print-On-Demand


Saturday, 25 February 2017

Death Cultist and Zombie


I haven't painted many Frostgrave figures lately. Partly this is the result of my continued battles with my eyesight, partly a lack of time, and partly a bit of lingering frustration. The truth is, the last time I painted up some Frostgrave figures, I wasn't happy with the results. After awhile, I realized it all came down to basing.

When I first wrote the game, I worried about the setting. I thought it was pretty cool, but I also knew that a lot of miniature gamers hate putting snow on their figure bases. Actually, I also hated putting snow on figure bases. It's not that it doesn't look good, but that it is limiting. The figures just won't look right on a lot of table tops. You'll never want to use them if you are fighting in the desert or the jungle.

I needn't have worried. Wargamers are practical folk. People that wanted to put snow on their bases did. Others just ignored that part of the setting, and did whatever they wanted on their bases. However, when I came to paint my first Frostgrave figures, I thought I had to be 'true' to the setting, otherwise I'd feel hypocritical. The first figures I painted had full snow bases. This looked terrible, like figures standing on a pile of cotton. Next I tried to do flagstone bases similar to the bases painted by Kev Dallimore on the figures in the book. Of course, my skill with a paint brush doesn't come close to Mr. Dallimore, and again it looked pretty terrible.

So, this time, I decided I would use my regular basing technique, a mixture of fine gravel, flocking and static grass, and then just add a little touch of snow here and there. I am much, much happier with the results. Okay, my Frostgrave has a bit more grass than I imagined, but so be it. Also, I now feel that these figures could also be used outside of Frostgrave, at least in a few colder locations.

For anyone else who is suffering from 'base indecision' when it comes to Frostgrave, you have my blessing to use whatever basing technique, and look, you want.

So here are the first two figures to feature my new basing, a death cultist and a zombie. The death cultist actually features an arm (the one with the hammer) from the barbarian box. I really like this figure. He came out looking rather heroic. Even evil has its heroes, I suppose.  The zombie I'm not as keen on. I feel like I lost control of painting him at some point. Still, he's a zombie, so I won't worry about it too much!

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Victory's Knife by Joseph A. McCullough

The tales of the Endless Isles are filled with piracy, war, horror and heroism. Containing the swashbuckling adventures of Stevan the Targeteer, the wanderings of the grim gunfighter, Bowis de Lleiva, and the darkly humorous accounts of the mysterious gravedigger, Nick Bury, Victory's Knife collects the folklore of a lost world.

Written over a period of twenty years by Joseph A. McCullough, the designer of the award-winning tabletop wargame, Frostgrave, and the soon-to-be released Ghost Archipelago, this anthology brings together his most popular fantasy short stories.

* * * 

And with those words, I am launching my first, self-published ebook! Victory's Knife will be appearing on Amazon, Itunes, and all of the regular ebook places over the next week, selling for $5. However, I wanted to give my loyal blog readers a chance to get the book first and to get a little discount.

So, if you are interested in getting a copy, just send $4.00 to paypal: joe5mc2@yahoo.com and specify if you want the PDF, ePUB, or Kindlie (mobi) file. I will then email the file to you. I am doing all of this manually, so there will be a delay between when you order and when I get a chance to send you the book, but hopefully it shouldn't be long.

Victory's Knife contains 17 short stories, most of which first saw publication in various magazines and 'zines over the years, although a couple appear here for the first time. In fact, you can read the shortest piece in the book on my blog here.

I would also like to take a moment to thank my friend, Steven Meyer-Rassow who designed the cover. He took my vague explanation of what I wanted and made it beautiful!

I will, of course, be talking more about the book over the coming days, but for anyone who wants to get it now, and save a buck, here's the chance. Feel free to comment and let me know what you think!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Ring Them Bells

In parts of Spain and France, people used to leap out of cathedral bell towers with the bell cords tied around their wrists and trust to the momentum of the ringing bells to pull them back in.

How's that for an attention-grabbing first line?

I recently finished reading The Arches of the Years by Halliday Sutherland. Back in the early 1930's the book was a best-seller in Britain; now it is almost completely forgotten. Essentially it is the autobiography of the first half of Sutherland's life, and although he isn't particularly famous, he did lead an interesting and adventurous life. He grew up in the Highlands amidst a culture that freely mixed superstition with Calvinism. He went to medical school at a time when he had to capture stray cats to practice anatomy. He voyaged with a whaling ship, first practised medicine in Spain where he 'attempted' bull-fighting, he dabbled in the stock market, served on an armed merchantman in World War I, and then returned to Britain to run a mental hospital. 

The book is written in a refreshingly honest and open style, and it is loaded with interesting details (Who knew that whale bones were used to make fake feathers as far back as the fourteenth century? You didn't think those were actual feathers on knight's helmets did you?).

One note, particularly, caught my eye. While travelling in Spain, Halliday went to Seville, where he witnessed a group of bell ringers leaping out of the top of the cathedral bell tower and swinging around on the bell ropes. This bell tower was nearly 300 feet above the ground!

I must admit, I'd never heard of anything like this, and it seemed to stretch credibility a bit. I did a quick internet search, but couldn't find anything on it. Still curious, I dropped an email to an acquaintance of mine who happens to live in Seville, the talented artist who goes by the name aRu-Mor. She explained that she wasn't native to Seville and was unaware of the tradition, but that she had heard of a group of acrobatic bell-rings in a nearby city. She did a bit of asking around and discovered a couple of amazing things. The first is the video below. Okay, they don't actually leap out of the tower, but they do leap up onto the bell and lean out of the tower! (Skip to about 4:50 to see the move).

Pretty amazing, but not quite proof. However, Ru-Mor also pointed me to this Spanish blog which looks into the question. It includes these rather amazing little pieces of art that come from near the beginning of the twentieth century.



That's got me pretty well convinced. As it turns out, I once wrote a fantasy short story in which the ringing of 'Spanish Bells' played a very big roll. More on that soon...

Monday, 13 February 2017

Adepticon Bound

Just a quick note to say that near the end of March, I will be heading for Chicago for Adepticon. Not only is Adepticon one of most enjoyable miniature shows I have ever attended, but this year, I will be helping to host a special Frostgrave Campaign Day. I'm especially excited because Ash Barker, of Guerrilla Minaiture Games, is going to be running the event.

I have written three special scenarios for the campaign day, and everyone who participates in the campaign will be given a special 'Event Scenario Pack' containing these exclusive scenarios.

There are still some places left in the event, but they will almost certainly fill up, so register now if you want to be sure to take part. Just click on this link, and type in Frostgrave to find the event.

So, if you are headed to Adepticon, and you really should if you can, please come by and say 'hi'. I will either be hanging out at the Osprey Games stand or at one of the several Frostgrave events that are running over the weekend.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Barbarian Hack

The problem with being a Renaissance Troll is that I am very easily distracted. A few months ago, while I was really supposed to be working on something else, I instead designed a quick-play, solo, dice-based, board game which I called 'Barbarian Hack'. The premise is the player is a barbarian who has a few turns to kill off all the monsters and rescue the prisoner. A game takes about 2 to 3 minutes to play.

I liked it, but it was such a small affair in terms of scope and rules I wasn't sure what to do with it. However, I spoke to the new editor over at Tabletop Gaming Magazine, and he was keen to have a look. Well, some months later, and I am a published board game designer!

So if you fancy giving Barbarian Hack a try, pick up an copy of Tabletop Gaming Magazine Issue 8, grab a couple of six-sided dice and some coins or figures, and you are ready to go!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Doctor Who: The Marian Conspiracy

The Marian Conspiracy is a beautiful example of the 'heart' that has kept Doctor Who relevant and popular for over fifty years.

Despite being the sixth instalment in Big Finish Productions Doctor Who Audio series, and the second to feature Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor, it is really a new beginning. For one thing, it goes back to the series' roots with a solid, historical adventure, designed to both entertain and educate. For another, it introduces a brand-new companion, the history professor, Dr. Evelyn Smythe (played by Maggie Stables), who will go on to be one of the best companions in the histor of the series. One of the mistakes of Colin Baker's short television run was the companions he was paired with, both of which tended to accentuate his worst traits. Dr. Evelyn Smythe, an older, more experienced, and wiser companion than almost any seen in the series before helps bring the Sixth Doctor down to a more human level. 

And that is the real key here. With this story, there is significant shift in how Colin Baker plays his Doctor. Yes, he's often still arrogant, bombastic, and egotistical, but these come only as little flashes now and then. Instead, it feels as though he has 'grown up'. He's a little wearier, a lot more introspective, but most of all, he has a lot more heart. 

In truth, The Marian Conspiracy is a bit short on plot. When you boil it all down, not a lot actually happens over the space of four episodes, and yet the listener is pulled along anyway. It is the setting that shines here. Tudor England, in the midst of its horrific religious upheavals is a wonderful, if challenging, place to set a Doctor Who. The writer, Jacqueline Rayner, doesn't pull in punches in presenting the setting, but nor does she (or, more importantly, The Doctor) take sides. The Doctor never supports cruelty, but nor is he quick to judge either. He knows how history must play out, and he is sympathetic to its actors...however, being the Doctor, he will occasionally go a bit off the script of time, just a bit around the edges, if it means saving a life or two...

So, if you've ever thought diving in to the Doctor Who Audio Adventure Range, this is a good place to start. Also, it is such an old one now that you can download it from Big Finish for a mere £2.99. It's good value entertainment.

As another reviewer said, 'Practically faultless, the one reason this isn't getting full marks is that Evelyn's adventures get even better later'

Friday, 27 January 2017

Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago Cover

Today I am allowed to show off the cover for Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago! Once again, the artwork comes from the talented Dmitry Burmak, who did all of the artwork in the original Frostgrave book. For this project, he is being joined by his wife, Kate.


So, in the centre, you've got the Heritor. Heritor's are the protagonists in the game. To his right, is his warden, in this case a 'Wind Warden', who not only helps him in battle, but is crucial to his hopes of navigating the Lost Isles. Unfortunately for the pair, they've managed to venture into the territory of some snake-men who are pretty famous for their dislike of visitors...

One other piece of news that I'm allowed to reveal, Osprey Games and North Star Military Figures are once again working together to produce miniatures for the game. This will include a plastic box set of 'crew' figures that will make up the bulk of the Heritor's crew. This will hopefully be released at the same time as the book, in September.

More info coming soon...

Or see my previous post on Ghost Archipelago if you have no idea what I'm talking about! 

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Why to Read?

According to my parents, I was not a child that took to reading. They tried a lot of tactics to get me interested in books, before finally finding some success with comic books. Even then, I have remained a slow reader, who occasionally struggles with word order and spellings. However, what I have lacked in natural speed, I have made up for with determination, and now I list reading as my favoured pastime.

Lately though, I have been dissatisfied with my reading. Too often, I think, I have picked up books because they just happened to be in front of me, or because, in my laziness, I fell back upon some comfortable genre, instead of choosing my books with careful intelligence.  Lately, I have found no challenge in the books I’ve read.

I had been having these thoughts a lot as last year came to an end. Then, by happenstance, I found myself in a small charity bookshop in my wife’s hometown. Upon the shelf, I saw a small red volume entitled Sesame and Lillies by John Ruskin. I knew of Ruskin more by reputation than acquaintance, having read only a single lecture by him, but I find him an intriguing figure. He spoke a lot about art and its relationship to society.

One of the interesting things about buying really old books is that they do not have blurbs. This book was old enough that it contained no information at all on when it was printed. So, knowing nothing but the author, I turned over £1 to the man at the counter and took my new book home. 

It is by sheer coincidence that the first two lectures (of the three in the book) are about ‘what to read’. In truth, that topic is just a launching point to wander over a variety of ideas, but it still struck me as a very strange coincidence.

At the same time I had been considering my reading, I had also been considering starting a ‘Commonplace Book’, that is my own collection of wisdom that I have gleaned from books. So, I began my commonplace book with some quotes I found in Ruskin. I will share a couple here, on the subject of reading:

No book is worth anything which is not worth much; nor is it serviceable, until it has been read, and re-read, and loved, and loved again; and marked, so that you can refer to the passages you want in it, as a soldier can seize the weapon he needs in an armoury, or a housewife bring the spice she needs from her store.

That to use books rightly, was to go to them for help: to appeal to them, when our knowledge and power of thought failed; to be led by them into the wider sight, purer conception than our own and receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinion.

So, my goal for this year is to challenge myself with my reading, to actively seek out books that contain wisdom or that will challenge my thinking. I will still read science-fiction, fantasy, and adventure fiction, but only if I have strong reason to believe those works to be above average (why bother reading the average?). We shall see how I get on.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The Empire Still Reigns

I have had a very off-and-on relationship with Games Workshop throughout my life. At times they have been my favourite games company, at other times their business decisions have driven me to despair. At the moment, they seem to be going through a bit of a 'renaissance', and are even, once again, producing a few Middle-Earth miniatures, which forms my main interest in their products these days.

Recently, on a trip to Nottingham with my friend and colleague, Phil, we swung by Warhammer World, the part of GW's corporate headquarters that is open to the public. I've got to say it, I had a great time. There is a huge shop, a huge games room, a nice pub, and an exhibition hall. I was sceptical that a miniature exhibition could really be worth the £7.50 admission charge, but it was fantastic! (If rather lacking in LOTR models!)

Phil did a full write-up of the exhibition on his blog, complete with some photos of some of the cooler displays. You can see it here.

Really, if you are a sci-fi/fantasy miniatures fan, and you get the chance - go.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Planar Storm: A New Frostgrave Scenario

I just received the new issue of Miniature Wargames which includes my new Frostgrave scenario, 'Planar Storm'. This scenario was written to go along with the ones found in Forgotten Pacts, and features a new type of barbarian adversary, 'The Tainted'.

Miniature Wargames 405 is available in either print or ebook editions.

I haven't had a chance to read the rest of the issue, but it appears to contain some interesting stuff, such as a solo scenario for The Men Who Would Be Kings by Conrad Kinch, an article from the Andy Copestake who runs Old Glory UK on what influences him as a gamer, and a full set of pike and shot rules by Arthur Harman.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Clansman of Lamedon

Although my new, ultra-bright painting set-up has really made a difference to my vision, it unfortunately hasn't created any time to actually pick up a paint brush. Still, sometime in the past few weeks I managed to finish one figure, this 'Clansman of Lamedon' from Games Workshop's The Lord of the Rings line. It's a bit of a curious figure. While I love the sculpting and the pose, it doesn't fit that well into my personal vision of Middle-Earth. Although Lamedon is one of the provinces of Gondor mentioned by Tolkien, he doesn't say that much about it. I don't think there is any reason beyond simple geography to assume they fight and dress like Scottish Highlanders. Still, designers have to design something, and when they have little-to-nothing to go on, they must draw upon other sources.

Before I started painting this figure, I spent a couple of days agonising over what tartan to paint his kilt, as every other version I had seen painted had some form of tartan. Then, I said, 'heck with it', and decided to forgo the whole idea of a tartan, or highlanders. I'd just paint it in colours I liked.

Well, I think the result is pretty striking. The heavy armour, the skirt, and the grieves, combined with my paint job makes the figure look more like an ancient Greek than a Scot; which is fine by me. The only aspect of the figure I wasn't happy with was the face. It just wasn't working for me, so I painted a beard on it. Now the figure reminds me a bit of Armand Assante in his roles as Odysseus and Alan Breck Stewart (in perhaps the best television version of Kidnapped!).

The figure came in a pack of three, so now I have to decide whether to paint them all in this colour scheme, or to give each one a unique dress.