Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Frostgrave: The Maze of Malcor

It is hard to believe, but it is almost a year since the last Frostgrave supplement set in the Frozen City (Ulterior Motives) was released. Well, that is about to change! In June the game returns to the Frozen City in a big way with the release of The Maze of Malcor.

Why is the Maze so big? Well, first off, it truly is bigger. I wrote 50% more words for this supplement than any of the previous supplements and this gave me a lot of room to play!

The heart of the book is the 12 scenario campaign, all set in the recently uncovered, and partially ruined, ‘Collegium of Artistry’. The first 6 scenarios follow most of the conventions set out in previous supplements. However, after that point, the Wraith of Malcor, the last headmaster of the Collegium, becomes aware of the intruders, and starts sending his servants, the Wizard Shades, after them. The Wizard Shades can either be run as uncontrolled creatures or played by an additional player.

Each of the Wizard Shades is a unique character that represents one of the five lost schools of magic from ‘The Pentangle’ and wields spells that have rarely, if ever, been seen in the last thousand years…

At the end of the campaign, the players get to face Malcor himself. I have, on occasion, been accused of making the final scenario in Thaw of the Lich Lord too easy. Well, hopefully I have made up for it here…

So, what else is in the book? Well, 30 spells from the Pentangle. These can be found on scrolls during the scenarios and thus used by wizards. These spells aren’t designed to be learned by wizards, but then, when did Frostgrave players ever let such things stand in their way…

Also, for the first time since Frostgrave was released nearly three years ago, I have included a section of ‘rules updates’. These are my suggested changes to the basic rules of the game. They are optional (as is everything), but I think players who try them will agree they improve the game in a variety of ways. Included in this section is a new Experience Point table.

Finally, there is a double-sized treasure table, and, of course, a bunch of new monsters to fight.  Oh, and sky gondolas, did I mention that?

Actually, June is going to be a big month for Frostgrave. Releasing at the same time as The Maze of Malcor is The Grimoire –  a set of spell cards which includes all of the spells from the basic book and all of the supplements, including the Pentangle spells in Malcor. Also coming in June is Matthew Ward’s second (and somewhat darker) Frostgrave novel, Oathgold – no spoilers, but 'rangifer'.

And will their be new minis? Of course there will!

If that’s not enough for you, well, check back in a day or two for another small Frostgrave-related announcement.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Frostgrave: Maze of Malcor Scenario in Miniature Wargames

I am back in the magazines this month. Well, one magazine anyway. The new issue of Miniature Wargames (May 2018 - Issue 421) includes my article 'The Path to Frostgrave', which talks a bit about the process I go through taking a Frostgrave book from first pitch to finished product.

The article also includes a new scenario, 'The Belfrey'. I originally wrote this scenario as part of the soon to be released Maze of Malcor, but, for organizational reasons, I decided to drop it from the book. I'm glad it has found its own home!

The magazine contains a couple of other articles that were of interest to me, most notably the interview with Chris Tubb from Mithril Miniatures on his transition from traditional to digital sculpting.

The new issue doesn't seem to be up on there website yet, but I'm sure it will be soon. Otherwise, it can usually be found at WH Smiths and will almost certainly be available at Salute this weekend.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Violent Fungus!

When I was a young man, just discovering Dungeons & Dragons, I thought it was hilarious that the game included a monster called 'violent fungus'.  In fact, it wasn't until years later that I realized that misread my Monster Manual*, and actually the creatures were called 'violet fungus'.  Disappointing.

Years later, after I had created my own fantasy game filled with monsters, I took the opportunity to correct this cosmic-level oversight. And so when I came to write Into the Breeding Pits for Frostgrave, the world gained mushroom men called violent fungus. Maybe nobody is laughing but me; but you know what, even if that is true, it was worth it.

With the truth finally revealed, it is perhaps surprising that I have only gotten around to painting my first violent fungus recently. This little guy is part of a two pack from North Star.  I love his big hands and his purposeful stride. This is a mushroom that has places to be! Just like the name, the model cracks me up.

When I sat down to paint him, I did a quick internet search for 'weird mushroom' images. I found a suitably bright yellow and red one which I used as the basis for the model. So a couple of yellow/brown layers with a purple wash, and then a red top with grey spots to finish it off. Very simple, but such a characterful model only needs a simple paint job, I think.

One of these days, I'm going to have to revisit the violent fungus and learn more about these strangely angry mushrooms.

* I just checked and violet fungus are in the 5th Edition Monster Manual. You can find them under 'fungus'. 

Friday, 16 March 2018

Col. McCullough's Confederate Army Manual

When I was fourteen, I was poking through a dusty bookshelf in my grandfather’s farm, when I made an amazing discovery…

But, before I get to that, I think a little family history is needed. The first McCullough of my line came to America in the late 1700s. This man, the ‘original’ Joseph A. McCullough as he’s known in my family, bought a farm in South Carolina and became famous for breeding horses. By the time the Civil War broke out, that farm had become a small plantation, complete with little shacks where the slaves slept. My great (x3) grandfather, James McCullough, who owned the farm, joined the Confederate Army. For most of the war, he was a colonel in command of the 16th South Carolina Volunteers, part of States Rights Gist’s Brigade. He led the regiment in several battles, most notably around Atlanta in 1864. Soon after that, however, he left the Army and returned home. No one in my family seems to know the reason for this, but it probably saved his life. The army next fought at the Battle of Franklin, where the Confederates suffered one of the most devastating and complete defeats of the entire war. States Rights Gist was killed, and every officer in his Brigade above the rank of Captain was either killed or wounded.

After the war, the farm fell into disuse, and my grandfathers instead embarked on careers in law, politics, and the military. That is until my grandfather (also Joseph A. McCullough) came back from World War II and decided to give farming another go. My father was born and raised on that farm, and every summer when I was a kid, we would go there to see the family and roam through endless acres of South Carolina forests and fields.

One day, I was poking through a dusty book shelf in my grandfather’s house and saw an old battered book with ‘Army Regulations’ on the spine. Opening the book to the title page, I saw that it was ‘Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States…published in New Orleans in 1861’. I think my heart actually skipped a beat!

Flipping back to the inside cover, I examined the book more carefully.

On the inside front cover is a book plate which declared the book belonged to the ‘Hon. Joseph A. McCullough’ and was deposited as a part of a collection with Furman University in 1918. (Just because there aren’t enough Joes in the story, this one is actually my grandfather’s grandfather, generally called ‘the Judge’ to avoid confusion).

But, what is more astounding than this book plate, is the inscription opposite it. It reads ‘Lt. Col. James McCullough, 16th Regiment SCV, Adams Run, April 1862’. Thanks to the Complete Records of the Civil War, I have been able to confirm that the 16th S.C.V was stationed at Adams Run in April of 1862. On the next page spread, which contains no printing, the book has been signed again, in the same hand, ‘James McCullough, Lt. Col. 16th S.C.V’. Both of these signatures were done in brown ink that has soaked through the page.
The book itself is pretty dry, as you would expect from an army manual, but also filled with interesting historical details, such as a Rank and Command list – who knew that Hospital Stewards held the same rank as an Ordnance Sergeant? Instructions on how to organize the troops, write down orders, issue ammunition, fight battles, organize wagon convoys, the proper style of uniforms, and finally a section of blank forms for all kinds of things including forms for pay and discharges.

It’s not until we get to the last very last page that we, once again, encounter my ancestor. On this last page, he has signed the book twice, once in ink and once in pencil. This time, in both instances, he is ‘Col. James McCullough’. There is also an extremely fine, and faint, bit written in pencil at the top of the page. Despite several attempts, the only thing I might be able to make out is the name at the end, which might be ‘Col. Ellery’.

The book is in poor shape these days. I’m not sure how much longer the cover will remain attached, and the pages are all slightly warped from moisture. Still, they made books to last in those days, and I have little doubt, that baring outside damage, it will still be around when I am gone.

Back when I found the book, I took it to my grandfather. He seemed surprised that it existed, and after a quick flip through, he handed it to me and said something to the effect of ‘I think you’d better take care of this…’

I have tried to. It is my prize possession – a direct link to my ancestor and to a horrendous yet compelling war.

My grandfather’s farm was divided amongst his children after his death. My father owns a part. My uncle (yup, Joseph A. McCullough) owns the part that contains the family graveyard. In the midst of that graveyard, under a small monument, lies Col. James McCullough. I hope he is at peace.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Tower of Dol Amroth

A couple of weeks ago, in a post that mostly got noticed for other reasons, I reminded myself that I should make some terrain. It’s a part of the miniatures hobby that I used to enjoy, but have gotten away from in the last five or six years. So, I went out and bought a big sheet of foam board, and then stared at it blankly for a couple of days.

Seeking inspiration, I started flipping through some old gaming magazines. I found what I was looking for in a couple issues of the old Battles Games in Middle-Earth. One contained instructions for building a Gondorian Fortress, which can be seen here. The other had instructions for building an Osgiliath tower. I really like the look and idea of the first, but figured it was way too advanced for the present. So, I decided I might try to combine the two, and make a fortified tower. Well, at first, I thought I would make a fortified lighthouse/beacon tower for Dol Amroth, but decided I would make it more generic so that I could use it for Middle-Earth, Ghost Archipelago, and even Frostgrave.

Construction has begun. I’m working on the base level first. I might even see if I can make it so that the tower itself is detachable, so that I can just use the base as a small fort.

I suspect this project is going to take quite some time. I have no deadline, and I’m not going to rush it. The photo shows what I’ve managed in an hour or so of work.

It has its frustrations - a miss cut by only a millimeter or two can throw the hole thing off, but, none the less, I am really enjoying the act of creating!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Bloody Letter

Last Friday, I got my first opportunity to get Belagus and his Dol Amroth battle company on the table…

Belagus moved his piece across the board and looked up at the Princess. She was distracted, her moves poor and uncoordinated. Finally, she turned away from the board and looked out a window. ‘I have a letter,’ she said. ‘I need it delivered to a friend in Lossarnach. A captain stationed in the mountains…’
            Belagus set-off the next day. He was joined by Coric, his old swordmaster; Levant, a young soldier in the Princess’ personal guard, and the brothers Eldamir and Caellen, who had spent several years serving as rangers in the White Mountains. Most of their journey passed pleasantly as they made their way through the civilized lands of the south, but as they headed north into the mountains the road became more difficult. They were still two days from their destination, when they crossed paths with a band of orcs…
            Seeing them coming, Belagus ordered his men to take defensive positons, while Eldamir and Caellen went to work. As the orcs charged, the brothers let fly with their arrows. In minutes, two orcs were down, and another was badly wounded. Then the orcs were upon them. Both Coric and Levant were battered back, and even the brothers were forced to join in the desperate fight. Only Belagus stood his ground, his blade flashing this way and that. Just when it looked like the small party might be overwhelmed, Belagus cut down an orc and the rest fled in panic. Taking stock, only Coric was badly wounded. The party waited a day while Coric recovered, then hurried on their way. Eventually, they reached the outpost and delivered their letter.
They stayed at the outpost for a few more days, then set-off home. Two days out, they were ambushed by the same group of orcs. This time, the fight went against them. The orcs came at such speed that bows were useless and the fighting became desperate. Just when the fight looked bleakest, the orcs, apparently having accomplished what they wanted, retreated in an orderly fashion.
Although everyone lived, the small party was in bad shape. Coric’s leg had been smashed, and Caellen had suffered a nasty sword cut to his side. Although he claimed to only have suffered small cuts and bruises, Belagus realized he had reopened the old wound that had pulled him from the front lines, what seemed a lifetime ago.

Last Friday, I met up with a friend and got in two games of the new Middle-Earth Battle Companies. I brought my Dol Amroth battle company, and he brought his Uruks. He had the advantage of numbers, 7 to 5, but I had a slight advantage in both archery and armour.
            For our first game we rolled the ‘Messenger’ scenario. Basically, we each secretly named one of our figures to be a messenger and were supposed to keep this figure alive while killing the enemy messenger. I chose ‘Levant’ as my messenger, which was a classic case of out-smarting myself, as this was probably the worst choice. I would have done better naming Belagus (who had the highest armour) or one of the rangers who were less likely to get involved in hand-to-hand fighting. Anyway, when the game started, I went on the defensive. I slowly moved my company back and around to the right, trying to keep the Uruks out of charge range, while my rangers went to work. The tactic worked pretty well. The rangers downed two Uruks and wounded one of the heros. But then they were on me. The hand-to-hand fighting went poorly for me, and Coric fell at first contact. Levant slew an orc, but then fell to the next. Belagus killed another orc, but had to rely on his heavy armour to save him.
            After a few turns, I was down to just Belagus and one ranger, while three Uruks were left. Then, in a horrible display of dice rolling, my opponent failed his courage checks for all three Uruks and they fled the table.

            Both of us had lost our messengers, so technically the game was draw, but since I held the field, it felt like a win. We both claimed a reward of 3 Influence points. Coric received an ‘Old Battle Wound’. (Meaning he has to check before each game, missing it on a roll of a ‘1’). The Uruks had one guy suffer an arm wound, meaning he could no longer carry a shield, and another one would have to miss our next game.
            We decided to immediately play another game. I was feeling pretty good about this. Coric passed his roll, and with the Uruks one down, I was only outnumbered 5 to 6. Unfortunately, the scenario we rolled, ‘The Relic’, basically prevented me from using the same tactics for game two. Anyway, the game was a disaster for me, so I won’t go into details. Belagus, Coric, and Eldamir all went down before I caused a single casualty. With the Uruks already making off with the relic, I conceded the game.
            The post-game also went very poorly. Belagus picked up an ‘old battle wound’. Coric got a Leg Wound (-1 Move), and Eldamir has to miss the next game. Sigh. I claimed my 2 Influence points for the game and limped away.
            When it came time to spend my Influence, my bad luck continued. I paid 3 for a roll on the reinforcements chart and got a ‘1’, which is nothing. Thankfully, I was able to spend another point to increase this to a ‘2’, so I could recruit another Men-at-Arms of Dol Amroth. I spent the last point getting some Heavy Armour for Coric as his poor Armour score twice proved his undoing.
            None of my men gained enough experience to make any advancement rolls.
            All-and-all, not a great showing for two games. Still, no one is flat out dead, and we’ve added another heavy armoured trooper which should help. My company rating stands at 102.
            Most importantly, I had a lot of fun. The games were extremely quick. We finished both, with lots of pauses for chatting, in two-hours. In fact, we probably would have played a third, but both wanted to have a pause to get our new men/orcs painted up.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Spellcaster Print-on-Demand is a Go!

It is with great joy (and a little relief) that I can finally announce that both issues of Spellcaster: The Frostgrave Magazine are now available as print-on-demand booklets from RPGNow! I’ve got copies of both sitting on my desk, and they make an attractive little set (if I do say so myself).

If you are just hearing about Spellcaster, here is what each issue has to offer:

Spellcaster, Issue 1

* 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

Spellcaster, Issue 2

* Rules for Dragons in Frostgrave, including a co-operative scenario.
* Traps in Ghost Archipelago, including a solo scenario.
* Frostgrave Mech War, rules and a scenario for fighting with Mechs using Frostgrave rules.
* The Bridges of the Mal Dreath, a scenario reprinted from Tabletop Gaming Magazine
* The Mail Bag and Horizon

Once again, I would like to thank all of the people that have helped with Spellcaster - Andrew Vallas, who has done the internal design and production work; Steve Meyer-Rassow, who created the logo and worked on the cover designs, and Dmitry Burmak for his fantastic cover artwork!